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'Meath are on the rise, that’s for sure. We won’t be going anywhere soon'

Niamh O’Sullivan is confident the Royals’ success can continue, despite the change on the way.

Niamh O'Sullivan (left) and Katie Newe celebrate with the Brendan Martin Cup.
Niamh O'Sullivan (left) and Katie Newe celebrate with the Brendan Martin Cup.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

PLAYER OF THE match in an All-Ireland final, back-to-back senior titles secured for Meath.

“You can’t get any better,” Niamh O’Sullivan beamed after Sunday’s 3-10 to 1-7 win over Kerry. “Look, you could pick any girl out there, everyone stood up to the plate. What a game, what a performance and two in-a-row, who would have believed it?”

Scorer of 1-2 in Sunday’s decider, O’Sullivan doesn’t have to think twice when she’s asked if she herself would have a couple of years back.

“No, definitely not. But look, when we lost in 2018 and 2019 [intermediate], it was hard, but I think everything happens for a reason and I’m a firm believer in that. I think it was the best thing for us and you learn from those losses, and look where we are today.”

Rulers of the ladies football landscape once more, the Royals affirming their greatness with a 2022 league and championship double after last year’s unlikely All-Ireland win.

The rise of Eamonn Murray’s side is well documented at this stage: from the senior doldrums to an incredible rebuild at intermediate level, their 2020 second-tier win a case of third time’s a charm, before they hit unprecedented heights in their first year back senior. In their debut final, the rank outsiders secured a first-ever All-Ireland senior title for the county and ended Dublin’s bid for the perfect five in-a-row. The stuff of dreams.

In recent days, Meath players have spoken about proving people wrong, desperately motivated to dispel the notion that they were one-hit wonders, unable to back up their stunning 2021 success.

“I think we hit the nail on the head with that with winning the league at the start of the year,” 32-year-old stalwart O’Sullivan said.

“We forgot all about that, one-hit wonder or whatever people were saying about us. People were saying we looked leggy against Galway, we looked tired, we weren’t the team we were but look, that just motivated us more to drive on and we were just focused on ourselves and how we can get better. I think that was our best performance to date.”

There were also rumbles in the build-up that this may have been a swansong for this team, with Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally AFLW-bound, Emma Troy at least one other player departure expected as the lively defender also heads to Australia for non-sporting reasons, and backroom team departures imminent.

O’Sullivan is well aware this could be the last time this team plays together, but is certain their success can continue despite the changes on the horizon.

“Oh yeah, 100%,” the Dunshaughlin Royal Gaels star assured. “That’s why you have a panel of 38 girls.

“There were eight girls there on Sunday who weren’t named on the panel and they’re young girls, you have the likes of Ciara Smyth, Orlaith Mallon, Ciara Gilsenan, they drive us as much as the other girls at training.

“If this group sticks together, which I think it will, we’re a very close group. You could see it on the pitch afterwards. There will be changes but we’re not going to focus on that just yet.

“We wish those girls all the best but at this moment in time we’re focusing on the win, the celebrations and Meath. Whatever decisions people make is for the future, we won’t be talking about it any time soon.”

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shauna-ennis-celebrates-with-the-cup Celebrations in full flow at Monday's homecoming in Navan. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

She spoke glowingly of teams’ resilience and ability not to panic; the work of Murray and co., mastermind coaches Paul Garrigan, Shane Wall and Mark Brennan with a “method behind their madness,” and psychologist Kelley Fay, in particular.

Potential backroom team exits were suggested by Murray at last week’s media day — “I know most of the coaches are leaving, they’re moving on. Will I stay or not? I don’t know” — but again, O’Sullivan couldn’t be drawn on such.

“I only saw a few articles this week…. every article I seen I didn’t read it. My focus is mainly on the match today. We’ll go off now and enjoy doing two in-a-row. I don’t think anyone thought we’d do two in-a-row. We’re not gonna focus on next year just yet.”

What about last year, how do the two wins compare for O’Sullivan, who also lit up the 2021 final and has been through a rollercoaster journey with the green and gold?

“It’s hard to know. It’s still not sinking in. A few of us were saying out on the pitch just to embrace it. Seeing our families out there. They’re always behind us. It will take a few days, if not months, to sink in properly.”

And a last word for the impact on kids across the Banks of the Boyne, much of the 46,440-strong crowd at Croke Park on Sunday from Meath, with a massive crowd also turning out for Monday’s homecoming in Navan.

“Even seeing the Kepak jersey, seeing young fellas and girls wearing it is fantastic,” O’Sullivan concluded. “I think if we’re encouraging boys and girls to be playing football, that’s what we want to do.

“As long as we’re successful, it’s going to be more appetising for the young kids to play. Yeah, Meath are on the rise, that’s for sure. We won’t be going anywhere soon.”

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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