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How will Meath-Kerry go? 'It could be a strange game. It could be a class game'

A closer look at the tactical battle of tomorrow’s All-Ireland senior ladies football final.

Meath captain Shauna Ennis with Anna Galvin of Kerry.
Meath captain Shauna Ennis with Anna Galvin of Kerry.
Image: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

TWO CONTRASTING STYLES of play, one intriguing All-Ireland final ahead.

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

It’s the reigning champions against the traditional ladies football kingpins, Meath versus Kerry in a mouth-watering Croke Park battle.

What can we expect as referee Maggie Farrelly throws the ball in at 4pm tomorrow?

Meath’s system is well-documented at this stage: they pull everyone but one or two back and set up defensively around the D, before counter-attacking at pace and with mayhem. 

“You could know all about it, but until you hit it, you don’t know,” manager Eamonn Murray declared earlier this week.

“Donegal played the exact same system [in the semi-final]. It was a strange game to play, against our own system. We probably came out on top, just about. A lot of teams are trying it.

“It’s very dull. It’s going to be a very interesting game. It could be a strange game. It could be a class game. I don’t know what the weather will be like. It could be a very strange, good game.

“I’d hope it’s just not a shoot-out. We don’t concede much, the biggest score we’ve conceded was against Galway, 1-11. 1-7 against Donegal. 9 against Armagh. We are not going conceding much hopefully.

“The backs are really the stars. We haven’t really hit the form up front, have we? Far from it. Please God, Sunday will be the day for that.”

Royals captain Shauna Ennis elaborated further, echoing some of her manager’s words and emphasising other points when given the chance, the team’s system having come under scrutiny at times this season.

“For right or wrong, we’ve got this tag this year as being a very defensive team,” the Na Fianna defender noted. “Whereas we wouldn’t see ourselves like that at all. Even people comparing last year, saying we’ve gone a lot more defensive.

“We haven’t. At all. We haven’t changed our tactical set-up or our game plan a whole pile. We’re very much attack-minded. We like to break forward when we turn over the ball.

“Those turnovers in the backs are nearly bigger than a score at times. I remember the roar of the crowd last year when we’d turn them over at the back would be bigger than the cheer for a score. We get so much energy from that. It sucks the energy out of the other team as well.

“Yeah, we like to get back but then we like to break forward when we win it. We know we’re going to have to do that against Kerry. Because they love scoring goals.

“But we like attacking too. And we have some All-Star forwards.”

aoibhin-cleary-and-emma-duggan-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Emma Duggan celebrating after last year's All-Ireland final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Emma Duggan is their scorer-in-chief, Vikki Wall the heartbeat of the running game, and they have one of the best free-takers in the country to their disposal in Stacey Grimes.

The same can be said about Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh for Kerry, the two-time All-Star spearheading their fierce attack. They play a lovely brand of attacking, open football; just as capable of going long as short, and mixing it up throughout.

The ruthlessness of their inside forward line must be highlighted, 16 goals scored in six games and their conversion rate sky-rocketing, with confidence key.

Joint-manager Declan Quill credits the work of his players further out the field for that, name-checking Niamh Carmody, Lorraine Scanlon and Anna Galvin, in particular. It’s up to Ní Mhuircheartaigh, Síofra O’Shea, Danielle O’Leary and the likes to do the damage then.

“You expect someone like Eilish Lynch to mark her girl and you expect Louise or Danielle to put the ball over the bar, that’s their job on the team so that’s what you expect.”

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He’s well aware a very different game lies ahead tomorrow, with much less space on offer inside. “This is a totally different style of game,” Quill nods. “We have to be way more tactically astute. We definitely won’t be getting inside that back line maybe as easy as we have been in the last couple of games.

“Meath have massive experience, playing in big finals since intermediate. They beat us well last year in the Division 2 final, well-highlighted. They have their set-up and their way of playing, it’s up to us to try and break that down and get inside them. When we get inside, we need to finish our chances, because they don’t give up a whole pile of them. 

“If you’re the opposition looking at us, it’d be, ‘Jesus we have to stop them scoring goals,’ because that’s what we have been doing. I’m sure Eamonn and his backroom team are putting something together to stop that. We’ll have to counteract that again. It’ll be intriguing.”

louise-ni-mhuircheartaigh-and-eimear-meaney Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh on the attack. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

That Kerry didn’t score after Paris McCarthy’s 45th-minute goal in the semi-final isn’t a major concern for Quill and co., Galvin also relaying her manager’s sentiments regarding going for the jugular, while adding that less reliance on “top-class” Ní Mhuircheartaigh has helped the cause.

After the semi-final, Murray hailed “our best football all year” and shared his belief that “we’ve timed our run to perfection”.

That remains to be seen, but all will unfold on the big stage today.

It will be a right battle, with the Meath boss warning of his opponents’ strengths through the build-up.

“They’re a big team, a huge team, my God. The goalkeeper, centre-back, full-back, midfielder, number 5, 11, very fit, well-trained team. Then you have Ní Mhuircheartaigh up there. Any team with her…hopefully we’ll see a shoot-out with her and Emma Duggan, like last Sunday [David Clifford and Shane Walsh].

“Ah, it’s going to be a tough day, I know it is. But it’s a game we’re looking forward to. They play pure football, it’ll be nice. No auld defensive system like us!”

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Emma Duffy

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