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'There were a few comments that we were lucky to be here. That definitely would have motivated me'

Vikki Wall was one of the heroes of Meath’s historic All-Ireland senior title triumph.

VIKKI WALL DIDN’T make a conscious effort to stay away from the hype and build-up.

Many cocoon away from the discourse, but she didn’t. She used some of it as an edge as Meath prepared for their first All-Ireland senior final, in their first year back in the top-flight, against four-in-a-row champions Dublin.

vikki-wall-celebrates-with-team-mates-after-the-game Meath's Vikki Wall celebrates as captain Shauna Ennis lifted the Brendan Martin Cup. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Mick Bohan’s Sky Blues were red-hot favourites, with 25 straight championship wins under their belt and the perfect five-in-a-row just an hour away.

Meath, the fairytale senior newcomers, were written off by most.

But as Wall and so many of her Meath counterparts have said: against all the odds, expectations and everything in between, they believed.

The build-up couldn’t be avoided. Any time she was on her phone, her Twitter feed was wall-to-wall with Meath-Dublin coverage.

“I suppose I definitely did listen to some of it,” she admitted in the bowels of the Hogan Stand after the Royals’ stunning triumph.

“There was a few things said that definitely would have motivated me, even from interviews and stuff like that from both sides.

“You ride it a little bit and let it motivate you, but not get too caught up in it.”

Go on, so. More details?

“Ah, I won’t say that, a few things…”

Her poker face turns into a coy smile when the fact that they were written off is mentioned.

“There were a few comments that we were lucky to be here. There is no luck — obviously there is a bit of luck in sport on the day — but it’s down to hard work.

“I just think in previous years maybe we didn’t have a full bench and panel. Whereas this year, genuinely every time the panel has been picked for match day, the 30 players, you genuinely don’t know who is going to be included. It’s just so competitive. I think that’s something that hasn’t been in the county for a few years.”

vikki-wall-is-tackled-by-siobhan-mcgrath-and-sinead-goldrick Meath's Vikki Wall is tackled by Siobhan McGrath and Sinead Goldrick of Dublin. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Mere minutes after her tantalising Player of the Match-winning performance — in which she likely covered every blade of grass on the Croke Park pitch and was at the heart of everything Meath did with the ball — and following the emotional celebrations, she had a word for everyone, and everything.

Trying to gather herself, she’s asked to sum it up first and foremost. “It’s hard to. I think when we started playing this definitely was a distant, distant dream for us. We believed all year, I suppose this year that we could do it. I don’t think a lot of people have, but just for us, it’s so special.”

The story is certainly a fairytale one. From hammerings at senior level a few years back, to opting to drop to the intermediate ranks and rebuild from there. They reached the second-tier semi-final in 2017 and finals in ’18 and ’19 before making it third time lucky last December (Wall was POTM that day too, and Intermediate Player of the Year).

This year started with setting “the bare minimum” goals — the need to stay up senior for the progression of Meath ladies football. “We might have been a bit afraid to say it,” Wall adds, “but then as the year progressed you are kind of saying, why can’t we. ‘If we are in senior why can’t we compete.’”

They did much more than that, gunning down powerhouses Cork and Dublin en route to ensuring the Brendan Martin Cup will winter elsewhere for the first time since 2004.

The last time they played the Dubs before Sunday was in a 2016 Leinster championship round-robin clash, and they fell to a 16-point defeat that day. A lot has changed since; Wall number five and marking Carla Rowe back then for one, but it’s much more than that.

“There is just no comparison of where we were then and where we are now, even turning up today and how well prepared we were, as in literally there was no stone left unturned. It’s just such a different set-up and it’s just so good to see.”

Is that down to Eamonn Murray? “As you heard from Eamonn’s interviews during the week, he doesn’t like taking much credit,” the Dunboyne ace smiles.

meath-celebrate-with-the-brendan-martin-cup Meath celebrate with the Brendan Martin Cup. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It’s a mixture of them all. It’s Eugene [Eivers, strength and conditioning coach], it’s Mark [Brennan] who does forwards up with us, Shane [Wall] who does backs and Paul [Garrigan] who is the link with everything, even down to Michelle [Grimes] as in she is our second mam.

“She bakes us everything, as in the day before the match she just thinks of everything. Emma Duggan – just a random one – has a nut allergy so she bakes [separate treats] and puts them in a separate box and brings them on the bus. It’s definitely a team thing.”

That was clear as day in Meath’s sensational final performance, Wall setting the tone for the day by winning the throw-in and driving straight through the heart of the Dublin defence with one of her trademark, powerful, pacey runs, before drawing a free.

It’s something she says she went to sleep thinking about and imagining all week, and was pleased to be involved in the opening score they had targeted.

The game in general is “a blur,” particularly the last few minutes as the “unbelievable” Meath crowd willed their heroes home.

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“I remember being up in the corner, seeing 20 seconds on the clock and a bit of a smile finally came on my face, then when I knew we were home and safe.”

The moments afterwards all come together too, but one meeting with a former team-mate is fresh in her mind.

“I just met Jenny Rispin in the corridor there and that would have been an emotional embrace. There have been a lot of girls involved in this team in the last few years that don’t get to be here today and don’t get to experience this with Meath football and I suppose Jenny is someone anyway that has given so much of her life to Meath football and never got to experience any of this type of success.

“I suppose just at the end, the whistle there, and the people that have been sending us messages during the week, and our families getting to be there this year, is just so special.”

vikki-wall-with-sean-quigley-after-the-game Wall with Sean Quigley after the game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Putting the weight of the achievement into context is certainly difficult in the immediate aftermath, but Wall does her utmost to verbalise what etching their names into the history books means.

“I suppose it probably doesn’t feel like history now. I think it will definitely take a little bit of time to settle in.

“We are just so, so happy. There is such a good mix of people. I am only 23, been there for terrible beatings from even Westmeath a few years ago, Cork, Dublin, to now. To the new girls, I won’t use the word naive, but are used to winning, as in to have girls on a senior panel with Meath that are used to winning. I think that’s unreal to say.”

So, ultimately, what this will do for the county?

“A huge amount,” she concludes. “I think when I came into the panel first there was no interest in Meath ladies football.

“It was really at a terrible stage and I just think even now, Jacksy Kiernans in Navan sold out of the ladies jerseys. You couldn’t get them online. To me, that is just unbelievable.

“I remember sitting down with Fergal Harney, our old chairperson, a few years ago, trying to come up with a plan of how we could get people wearing the ladies [jersey], never mind the mens.

“I just think it’s going to cause a bit of uproar in Meath and it will be unbelievable.”

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Emma Duffy

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