Ryan Byrne/INPHO Meath celebrate after their All-Ireland final win last Sunday.

Meath's Glory Days bring #SeriousSupport like never before

It’s a week since the Royals were crowned back-to-back All-Ireland senior champions after a remarkable journey.

THE FIRST SIGNS appeared just outside Drumconrath, a small village in north county Meath; the proud Dee Rangers club wishing their sole representative the best of luck.

Many more would follow, as the winding country road towards Slane was navigated, before the River Boyne crossed and the N2 towards Dublin hit.

The joys of hailing from a border area. Cavan, Meath, Monaghan and Louth all meet near home, so the build-up to the Royals’ All-Ireland senior ladies football final return spilled over our direction.

Eamonn Murray’s side were back, seeking more Brendan Martin Cup glory against Kerry after their monumental 2021 success. Things were different this time around: No longer underdogs, now the favourites. Perhaps more pressure, maybe a little heightened hype, and certainly increased interest.

It’s fair to say that this team has captured the hearts of their county — and more further afield — over the past few seasons. From the senior doldrums to a rebuild at intermediate level, second-tier glory finally arrived in December 2020 after back-to-back final defeats. They tasted senior success for the very first time the following September after a fairytale return to the top-flight, and the shock end of Dublin’s perfect five in-a-row bid.

While also climbing the league ranks to Division 1 and securing the 2022 double, Meath have well and truly shattered the stranglehold Cork and Dublin had on the game for so long. This was the first final since 2002 neither of those counties contested, the heavyweight pair having previously shared every single title from ’05 to ’20.

Meath undoubtedly breathed new life into the competition, and gave their own county a a serious lift, and that was reflected in their incredible backing last Sunday in Croke Park.

#SeriousSupport, as the LGFA x Lidl hashtag goes.

The first signs of such in the capital came on the 16 bus towards Drumcondra. You could be forgiven for thinking nothing was happening at HQ on other ladies football finals days, but not this year. There were several green and gold jerseys on board, helped by the fact that both counties wear the same colours.

meath-supporters-celebrate-after-the-game Tom Maher / INPHO Meath fans celebrate in Croke Park. Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

The famous Kepak jerseys outweighed the Kerry Group ones, a few Devenish shirts on show too. (Kepak sponsor the Meath ladies team, hence the bespoke jersey.) One fan that really caught the eye was a fella in his twenties, on his own, wearing one, arranging a trip to the pub ahead of throw-in. This was treated exactly like any other big match in Croker.

The groups of young men were striking, exactly like last September, gender gone out the window as they supported their county. It’s something you would not have seen just as much of a few short years back.

There were similar observations trudging up Clonliffe Road; a contingent of young boys drawn in by the hats, scarves and headbands crew, and adding some more green and gold to their attire.

46,400 fans in total made their way up Jones’ Road and into the stadium for the biggest day in the ladies football calendar, and they were rewarded in spades for their attendance: a thrilling draw in the junior final between Antrim and Fermanagh, heartwarming scenes as Laois ended their All-Ireland drought despite the best efforts of Wexford in the intermediate decider and, of course, The Big One and everything that went with it.

Kerry’s dream start sparked the game to life from early doors, with an unanswered 1-2 on the board after seven minutes. Meath didn’t panic and responded accordingly, hitting 1-6 without reply. 

“Foot on the gas,” a young fan sitting beside the press box demanded over and over, and his wishes were granted. Led by Emma Troy, Aoibhín Cleary, Niamh O’Sullivan, Vikki Wall et al, the holders moved into ascension and produced a champions’ performance. 1-8 to 1-5 up at the break, they held the Kingdom scoreless from the 35th minute onwards and ran out worthy 3-10 to 1-7 winners.

a-view-of-the-large-crowd-of-meath-gaa-fans-at-the-homecoming Evan Treacy / INPHO A view of the homecoming in Navan. Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The Meath fans kicked every ball with them, saluting their heroes as Emma Duggan kicked it high in the air after the final whistle of referee Maggie Farrelly.

The now-famous #LoveMeathLadies flag was raised to the sky similarly, alongside a new addition — 2 in-a-row — and countless other posters and signs made by kids.

As captain Shauna Ennis prepared to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand, Beautiful Meath rang out once more, along with Glory Days. That, these most certainly are. 

“To win one All-Ireland is one thing, to win it a second time takes a special team,” as LGFA president Micheal Naughton said when handing over the silverware. Good teams do it once, great ones go again.

The celebrations are still in full flow, from the Knightsbrook in Trim on Sunday night to the homecoming at Navan’s Fair Green on Monday and the various clubs dotted around the county thereafter — but the sense that this was perhaps this group’s Last Dance cannot be shaken.

Midfield general Orlagh Lally and the ever-impressive Wall set off for the AFLW in the latter days of the week, with several other players including Troy teetering towards the exit door.

Coaching mastermind Paul Garrigan has also confirmed the end of his ‘magical journey’ with the team, with more backroom set-up departures expected to follow.

No matter what happens next, Meath will always have the Glory Days of the past few years; a big shift in the county with ladies football on the up.

And up, and up.

#SeriousSupport like never before.

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