Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Shauna Ennis at the final whistle of last year's All-Ireland senior final.
Royals Return

'The low you experience after winning an All-Ireland is not something you hear a lot about'

Shauna Ennis has captained Meath back to the All-Ireland senior final.

SPORT, LIKE LIFE, is never exactly straightforward. Far from plain-sailing. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, great days and awful ones. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

The Meath ladies’ journey over the past few seasons encapsulates it all pretty well, a rollercoaster the best way to describe it.

After years in the doldrums, the Royals shocked everyone but themselves in winning their first-ever All-Ireland senior title last season. It was their debut final appearance in their first year back in the top-flight after an impressive rebuild at intermediate level, and they gunned down Dublin, who were bidding for the perfect five in-a-row.

The stuff of dreams.

There’s no point in saying 2022 has been easy, and captain Shauna Ennis is the first to stress that life has been very different as champions.

“I think a lot of us did struggle with it, from a mental side of things,” the Na Fianna defender begins ahead of Sunday’s showdown against Kerry [4pm, TG4].

“Coming back as All-Ireland champions, it’s a very, very different place. The low you experience after winning an All-Ireland is not something you hear a lot about. But you’re coming off such a high.

“You come off that high and you go quite low. I found myself going very low afterwards. But we have a great team around us. Our management team, they were brilliant and they really looked after us.

“There’s a reason a lot of teams don’t do double All-Irelands. It’s very hard to psyche yourself up again. But we’ve managed to do it.

“We’re the hunted this year. We’re the All-Ireland champions. Everyone going out to play us this year is going to play their best stuff. You seen that in the quarter-final against Galway and the semi against Donegal, winning by just a point or two.

“But that’s what we want. We want to be challenged. Hopefully those games will stand to us on Sunday.”

The mantle of being champions weighs heavy on some. The target on their backs.

Not on Meath though, once they got their house in order and bounced back from those post All-Ireland blues.

“That’s probably testament to the players we have in our group,” Ennis nods. “The players and management have been together for over five years now, so we’re very tight.

“The core of the team has stayed the same and our management know how to keep us grounded. Kelley Faye, our psychologist, is brilliant. We’ve done a lot of work with her over the last four years too.”

This is familiar territory for the group. Their fifth All-Ireland final in-a-row. There were two intermediate final defeats before they got over the line in 2020, and then that unforgettable senior triumph over Dublin last September.

Ennis and her side know the lay of the land on All-Ireland final day inside out as a result, and have learned how to embrace the big occasion. 

They, too, have taken the extra eyes, pressure and the change in attitude towards the team in their stride.

“Over the last couple of years, obviously we’ve gotten more attention because of being successful. So we’ve gained a lot more supporters. We’re not going to turn any supporters away.

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-finals-captains-day David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE Ennis with Kerry captain Anna Galvin at the All-Ireland ladies football final launch. David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

“We want the stands to be full here on Sunday. Look, I think it’s great for the game. As much support as possible – that’s what we want.

“I had people coming up to me last year after the final saying, ‘I had never been at a ladies game before. I went to the All-Ireland and I’m not going to miss one of your games next year.’ And in fairness, we’ve had great support during the league and the championship this year. Hopefully we can keep them now for the foreseeable.

“Anyone you meet, all they want to talk about is the All-Ireland. All they want to talk about is Meath ladies. And a few years ago, when we were in maybe one of our first All-Ireland intermediate (finals), no one would have batted an eye lid at us.

“No one would have taken a blind bit of notice. Now, all of a sudden, everyone knows you. People are waving at you and you have no idea who any of these people are!

“So I think that was probably something some of us would have struggled with as well. This new attention that we’re all getting. But look, you take it in your stride. We have a lot of good people around us to keep us grounded.”

They’ve garnered plenty more notice on the pitch too, their big names like Emma Duggan and Vikki Wall watched more closely and their well-documented system under the spotlight.

Ennis doesn’t see them as “a very defensive team,” but likewise, she won’t take much notice of outside noise.

Back-to-back is being thrown around quite a lot this week, just like the Kerry men’s and women’s double, but it’s not something they’re honing in on.

Block out the bigger picture, break it right down.

“When I started playing with Meath in 2012, 2013 – we were a senior team but we were nowhere near the top end,” Ennis concludes.

 ”We weren’t getting to semi-finals or finals. And then, when we were relegated down to intermediate, the thought of a senior All-Ireland wasn’t something you considered in your wildest dreams.

“To have come this far and have achieved that is still something that hasn’t probably sunk in. I don’t think we’ve really thought about it [legacy]. We’re just chasing that feeling that you get with winning, that feeling you get in the five minutes after the final whistle.”

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