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'That was a sad, sad day' - From a 40-point defeat to All-Ireland senior final place

Meath boss Eamonn Murray on the county’s journey to next Sunday’s decider.

Meath manager Eamonn Murray.
Meath manager Eamonn Murray.
Image: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

EAMONN MURRAY ADMITS the Meath ladies were at such a low ebb a few years ago that he didn’t fancy managing them and many of the players didn’t want to play either.

Cork crushed the Royals by 40 points in a 2015 game on TV, a result that Boardsmill man Murray admitted was simply ‘sad’.

He was approached about becoming manager two years later in the spring of 2017 and, initially, said he didn’t want it.

At the time, he could see that Meath was in turmoil and that some players weren’t interested in ever playing for the county again.

Remarkably, they’re preparing for the TG4 All-Ireland senior final now and will take on five-in-a-row chasing Dublin this Sunday at Croke Park.

“I never really wanted this job,” said Murray, who was the minor manager when approached in 2017. “I always loved working in the underage setup in Meath, I loved producing good players for the seniors. When I was asked to do it, I said, ‘No, I don’t want it’.

“The chairman, Fearghal Harney, rang me about five times. Eventually I said, ‘Look, if I’m allowed to pick my own selectors…’

“Meath football was in a bad place and I wanted people with a smile on their face, to lift them.”

The problem was, the best players in Meath had similar reservations and didn’t want to get involved either. And they took a lot of convincing.

“It wasn’t easy getting those players back in,” said Murray, who’d previously worked with the Meath minors. “A lot of players didn’t want to ever play again for Meath. It took a lot of phone calls and coaxing.

“You’ve no idea what I had to do. I had to beg players to play for Meath. I’d have promised them everything under the sun. I asked them, a lot of them, ‘Give me two weeks starting off and we’ll see what happens’.

“But as I say, a lot of them had no intentions of ever playing senior football again. It wasn’t easy, it was a tough job.

“We were one kick of a ball away from Division 4 at one stage, it was that bad.”

Meath won the Division 3 league title in 2019, finally got out of the intermediate ranks last winter by beating Westmeath and then claimed the Division 2 league title earlier this year.

Despite all of that progression, retaining their senior status this summer was still seen as the main target. A win over Tipperary got Meath out of their group and they then took down Armagh and, memorably, Cork to set up this Sunday’s Dubs date.

A world away from the 2015 experience of being slaughtered 7-22 to 0-3 by Cork.

“That was a sad, sad day for me at the time as well because I am involved with Meath ladies teams for 17 years,” said Murray, a Cavan man who relocated to Meath and the Boardsmill club outside Trim.

Meath are a different team now with some thrilling young talents. Emma Duggan has been their standout performer with 2-17 from four games having sat her Leaving Cert exams only weeks ago.

“Orla Lally and Emma Duggan and Mary Kate Lynch and Sarah Wall, those players don’t come around too often,” said Murray.

Asked to identify the turning point for Meath, when he realised they might actually be onto something special this year, he pointed to a match back in June.

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“It was actually in the league when I found this out, we played Cavan in Breffni Park. They had given us a good hiding maybe the year before. That was a hard place to go to win and we won actually by five or six points. I felt that day, ‘There’s something special here’. That’s the day it all started really coming together well, as a team.”

The bookies still give them no hope of pulling off one last giant killing act. Dublin haven’t lost a championship game since the 2016 All-Ireland final and, if anything, look stronger this year for the acquisition of Ireland rugby out-half Hannah Tyrrell.

“I presume they’ll be the hottest favourites of all time,” said Murray. “We’ll not get nervous, we don’t really do nerves, we just go out there and enjoy it. And we’ll not get too upset if we lose. We’ll give everything we have. We ask the players, if they give it all they have, we’ll be there or thereabouts.

“We’re really looking forward to it, nothing to lose at all. I mean, really, nothing to lose. It’s all a bonus for us.”

But can Dublin actually be beaten? Do they have any weaknesses?

“Of course. I just can’t say what they are, but of course they have.”

* AIG is the official insurance partner of the LGFA and has announced a new 15% discount off car insurance for all LGFA members at www.aig.ie/lgfa

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Paul Keane

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