Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
# Royal Rising
Just how big an upset was newcomers Meath dethroning Dublin and winning a first All-Ireland senior title?
In the Royals’ first year back in the top-flight, they won the biggest prize in the game.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 9th 2021, 12:01 PM

THE ANSWER IN short? Absolutely massive.

meath-players-celebrate-with-supporters-on-hill16 Bryan Keane / INPHO Meath players celebrate with fans on Hill 16. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

In Meath’s first year back in the senior championship, in their first senior championship final, they delivered their first All-Ireland senior championship title.

And they ended Dublin’s bid for a perfect five-in-a-row in doing so at Croke Park, loosening the Sky Blues’ and Cork’s stranglehold on the competition through the modern era.

This was unquestionably one of the biggest upsets the game has ever seen, and arguably the greatest turnaround in Irish sport.

First, a snapshot of their championship rise:

2016: Requesting relegation after a raft of heavy defeats at senior level.

2017: All-Ireland intermediate semi-finalists.

2018: All-Ireland intermediate finalists.

2019: All-Ireland intermediate finalists.

2020: All-Ireland intermediate champions.

2021: All-Ireland senior champions.

Last December, the Royals made it third time lucky in their bid to get out of the minefield that is the intermediate championship. Máire O’Shaughnessy lifted the Mary Quinn Memorial Cup after running out 2-17 to 4-5 winners over Westmeath,

Nine short months later, it was Shauna Ennis climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand and lifting the Brendan Martin Cup, the biggest prize in the game, as their fairytale story hit stratospheric levels (and as the stars so often align, Westmeath won the intermediate).

Looking back to the start of this season, an opening-day loss to Kerry was the only blot on their copybook through a successful Division 2 league campaign. The Royals hit the ground running from there, gathering momentum through the group stages before producing an impressive win over neighbours Cavan in the semi-final and booking a decider rematch with the Kingdom.

They were irresistible that day in Croke Park, ending a seven-year wait for a return to the top-flight. Focus then switched to the the first tier of championship fare.

lauren-magee-and-emma-duggan Bryan Keane / INPHO Dublin's Lauren Magee and Emma Duggan of Meath. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Let’s be real: when most teams are promoted, and in most circumstances across the board, the main focus is on staying up and building from there.

2017 intermediate champions Tipperary failed to win a game at senior level in 2018 and were relegated. 2018 intermediate winners Tyrone made it to the 2019 senior quarter-finals, but were beaten by Cork by 26 points. And Tipp, second-tier winners again in 2019, didn’t clock one win in senior championship last season.

There was no relegation in 2020 due to the condensed championship, but the Premier and Tyrone faced off in the basement battle this season, with the Red Hand back down to intermediate level for 2022.

Taking all of that into consideration, Meath’s championship run this season was phenomenal. As they grew in belief, their goals changed.

“A few of us maybe had different hopes at the start of the year with our psychologist,” as Vikki Wall said after Sunday’s historic win.

“Obviously you set the bare minimum at the start, that we need to stay up senior for the progression of football in our county.

“I suppose, at the start of the year we might have been a bit afraid to say it, but then as the year progressed you are kind of saying, why can’t we? ‘If we are in senior why can’t we compete?’”

That they certainly did, their only defeat a two-point group stage one at the hands of Cork, having had a late goal disallowed.

Meath grabbed national attention with their stunning quarter-final win over Armagh. At the time, this may have been seen as a shock by many, but it was the furthest thing from that for those keeping a close eye on their progress.

The system they play — generally, four of their forwards and their two midfielders drop to form an organised defence, before they all counter-attack at speed and with mayhem –  is an extremely hard one to break down, as Cork and Dublin went on to learn.

shauna-ennis-lifts-the-brendan-martin-cup Bryan Keane / INPHO Shauna Ennis lifting the Brendan Martin Cup. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

With 58 minutes on the clock of their semi-final showdown with the Rebels, it looked like it would be another Dublin-Cork final. A sixth in eight years, the two counties having dominated the ladies football landscape by sharing every championship title since 2005.

But the Royals would gun them both down to complete a simply remarkable rise.

The defied the odds, expectations and everything in between and ripped the script to shreds with a team performance for the ages, as they etched their names into history.

They joined Laois in achieving such a successful rise from intermediate to senior; the O’Moore county beating Mayo by a point in 2001, having overcome Cork in the previous year’s intermediate decider. In 2005, Armagh won the junior title and appeared in a senior decider 12 months later. 

“If you commit yourself to a cause, and you get organised, and you’re willing to do the little bit extra, the competition is there for anyone,” as Bohan said afterwards.

Dublin – who had won each and every one of their 25 straight championship clashes under his stewardship this term, a record stretching back to 2017 – have been the only team in the Leinster senior championship over the last few years.

Though not played in 2020 or 2021 amidst the pandemic, there had been passionate calls from Bohan and others beforehand to scrap the provincial competitions.

Dublin were regularly hammering sides, and were eight in-a-row winners.

Now, they’ll have interesting company in Meath and Westmeath in 2021.

How great this is for the game, Wall said on Sunday.

“Even just for selfishly Leinster football, as in that’s three of us there next year. I think that’s huge. I suppose Dublin haven’t had a competitor in Leinster football since Westmeath dropped down. I think that’s huge as well.

“I suppose for us we are delighted that it is us winning, but maybe I think it might drive other teams around to see that it’s not Dublin winning five-in-a-row.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel