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Race for Brendan: The last two teams in the All-Ireland senior ladies football race

Meath and Kerry face off in Sunday’s final.

Scoring stars: Emma Duggan (Meath) and Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Kerry).
Scoring stars: Emma Duggan (Meath) and Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Kerry).
Image: Inpho Sports.

THE REIGNING CHAMPIONS versus the traditional kingpins.

Meath and Kerry face off in a new-look All-Ireland senior ladies football final in Croke Park on Sunday [throw-in 4pm, live on TG4].

For the first time since 2002, neither Cork or Dublin will be there.

Kerry last graced the biggest stage in 2012, and were last crowned champions in 1993. They’ll be hoping to continue the party mood in the Kingdom after Sunday’s Sam Maguire success.

Meath, meanwhile, are aiming for back-to-back Brendan Martin Cup lifts after their maiden win in their first final and first season back in the top flight.

The holders will undoubtedly be favourites for the crown, having breathed new life into the competition last year, but anything could happen. It’s anyone’s game.

How are both counties shaping up for the big day?

Meath

The Royals have come through some big tests in recent weeks. Emma Duggan was the late hero against both Galway and Donegal, as the champions’ big match experience and know-how shone through down the home stretch on both occasions. “That’s our best football that we played all year,” manager Eamonn Murray said after the semi-final win. “There’s no point in winning the league by 20 points and losing today. We’ve timed our run to perfection.”

Meath added a first-ever Division 1 league crown to their cabinet in April, defeating Donegal in the final by two points, but fell short to Dublin in the Leinster decider. They’re back on track with a 100% record in championship thus far, enjoying their change of role to The Hunted with their 2021 triumph firmly in the rear-view mirror.

With Dublin and Cork out of the race, and Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally staying put despite recently signing AFLW deals, there’ll be a little more wind in the sails and the perfect send-off on the horizon. There’s no room for sentiment this week though.  Or complacency, with the favourites tag on their back. There’s a job to be done.

aoibhin-cleary-and-eamonn-murray-celebrate Meath's Aoibhin Cleary and manager Eamonn Murray celebrate after last year's All-Ireland final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Meath have changed very little in recent times, as they stick to a similar starting team and their trusted defensive system. It’s well-documented at this stage: they pull everyone but one or two back and set up around the D, before counter-attacking at pace and with mayhem. Wall is the heartbeat of their running game, Duggan their scorer-in-chief and they have one of the best free-takers in the country to their disposal in Stacey Grimes.

The one big injury concern is Mary Kate Lynch after the full-back was forced off after a crunching collision late on in the semi-final, but all else appears to be going swimmingly on the Banks of the Boyne.

Kerry

This is a huge opportunity for Kerry, one of the game’s true aristocrats and traditional kingpins. They grabbed their semi-final chance with both hands, producing an excellent performance to see off Mayo and continue their incredible 2022 journey. It’s crazy to think that they were in a senior relegation play-off last season.

Under the shrewd tutelage of joint-managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long, the Kingdom have enjoyed an impressive turnaround in recent years. There were turbulent times before the duo took the reigns; chopping and changing with managers, league relegation in 2018 after fielding an ineligible player and a winless campaign, county board issues and other off-field drama.

Problems with Centre of Excellence access were raised by star forward Louise Ní Mhuirchearigh earlier this year, but Kerry remain a far cry from those testing times of the past, beating Armagh, Galway and Westmeath since their Munster final defeat to Cork, whose shadow they lived in for so long. Ní Mhuirchearigh and co. will look to continue doing their talking on the pitch, playing a lovely brand of attacking football and hungry for goals (all of their scores in the semi-final came from play).

kayleigh-cronin-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Kayleigh Cronin celebrating after the semi-final win over Mayo. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

With teak-tough full-back Kayleigh Cronin a real standout performer for the team this year, centre-half forward Síofra O’Shea and midfield duo Lorraine Scanlon and Cáit Lynch have also been key for Kerry.

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Just Ní Mhuircheartaigh, Scanlon, Lynch, Emma Costello (nee Sherwood), captain Anna Galvin and the returning Louise Galvin were there in 2012, with 15 of the panel debuting since 2020. Very few were even born when Kerry last won in ’93, so they’ll be hoping to etch their names into history and surpass Cork on the roll of honour. Both have 11 titles as of now.

There’s no real injury news to report, but one big concern for Quill and Long will be the fact that they were held scoreless from Paris McCarthy’s 44th-minute goal against Mayo.

The last time the sides met?

The 2021 Division 2 league final. Meath ran out 2-16 to 1-9 winners after a superb team performance and a 1-5 tally from Grimes, everything beginning to click for their famous championship run. Kerry came out on top of that campaign’s opener, finishing 3-10 to 1-10 winners in Navan.

The Kingdom finally secured Division 2 glory with a comeback victory over Armagh in April, tasting Croke Park victory for the first time this year. Meath were crowned Division 1 champions later that day.

Now, they both face off in the big one.

Sunday’s TG4 All-Ireland finals

Croke Park, live on TG4

  • Junior: Antrim v Fermanagh, 11.45am
  • Intermediate: Laois v Wexford, 1.45pm
  • Senior: Kerry v Meath, 4pm.

BTL 5

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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