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Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE Mick Bohan and his Dublin team after the final.
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'The end of a road for probably half a dozen' and what now for defeated Dublin?
Meath ended the Sky Blues’ bid for a perfect five-in-a-row in Sunday’s All-Ireland senior final.

THERE WAS AN end of an era feel after Dublin’s All-Ireland final defeat on Sunday.

Meath were crowned senior champions for the first time ever after producing the perfect ending to their fairytale story, capping their meteoric rise, and derailing the Drive for Five.

Mick Bohan’s all-conquering side fell at the final hurdle, just short of the perfect five-in-a-row. Unbeaten in championship fare since he took the reins for a second term ahead of the 2017 season, the Royals – intermediate champions last year – ensured they wouldn’t add another to their 25 straight wins.

Meath’s ultra-intensity and sheer quality set them apart on the big stage; their belief, hunger and exceptional team performance pointing them towards a two-point victory and a first-ever Brendan Martin Cup lift.

Dublin and Cork have dominated the ladies football landscape for as long as most remember, sharing each and every championship title stretching back to 2004.

But new champions certainly signpost change going forward.

Bohan’s post-match press conference all but confirmed as much in the Dublin set-up.

Choking back tears, he spoke about the “end of a road” for a chunk of his team.

All year, he hailed the “older lemons” — Lyndsey Davey, Sinéad Aherne, Siobhán McGrath and others who have soldiered for so long. All five-time All-Ireland winning stalwarts (their other title was 2010) who have given so much to the Dublin cause through the years.

Together, they bounced back from three final defeats in-a-row from 2014 to 2016, and ultimately elevated the game to a new level.

While giving no clear indication on his own future, Bohan’s emotion and reflections of the group’s journey over the past five seasons said it all. It may indeed be the end for him too.

“I can say this to you hand on heart,” he noted, pausing to fight back tears, “that whatever we as a management team have given them, they’ve given us way more.

“I suppose today was the end of a road for probably half a dozen of that group. You would have obviously written the script differently from our end but look, I hand the thing over to Meath. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done; you’re supposed to go out into that arena and you’re supposed to empty your souls on the pitch — that’s why we valued the prize so highly.”

Five of Dublin’s starters from Sunday are 30 or over. Four-in-a-row winning captain Aherne is 34, having arrived on the scene in 2003 when Bohan was in his first term. Davey made her senior debut in 2004, aged just 14. She’s still only 31, but 18 consecutive seasons of inter-county football means she’s also travelled some road.

There was always a feeling that this year would be their last. The emotion after last year’s All-Ireland final – from Davey and McGrath, in particular – suggested that it would be, but they gave it one more go.

“With Covid, we were going, ‘What else are you going to do?’” as Davey noted. And let’s be real, the perfect way to exit would have been on five-in-a-row.

niamh-mcevoy-dejected-after-the-game Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Niamh McEvoy dejected after the game. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Just Noelle Healy retired in the end, assuming the role of team doctor since — Nicole Owens was also absent for most of the championship — while former Irish rugby international Hannah Tyrrell (30) seamlessly filled a void. She was unquestionably their top performer in the final, and all year.

Niamh McEvoy (also 30), who came off the bench in the second half, is another who was involved back in 2010, while long-serving Sinéad Goldcick (31) took that season out to go travelling.

Both have played Aussie Rules with Melbourne FC of late, splitting their seasons between the two countries. The former retired from the game this year, while the latter sustained a career-threatening hamsting injury.

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One of several injury blows and concerns for Dublin this year, it seems like the setbacks caught up with them the final. Not to take anything away from Meath’s phenomenal team performance and well-drilled system, tired Dublin legs were evident.

They looked fatigued, both physically and mentally, as they tried desperately to come up with answers and crack the Royals’ code, but to no avail. They were left to rue plenty of uncharacteristic errors and wides, and that’s credit to what Meath brought.

Bohan made that clear in his interviews: “I have to take my hat off to Meath, I thought they were outstanding. I don’t know if I saw that coming, maybe we didn’t,” he said. “I couldn’t get over their intensity, maybe it’s the first time we’ve seen it up front.”

While no players were sent out to face the media, their actions spoke louder than words.

There’s no doubt about it, they have been great champions and standard-bearers in the game. Humble in victory, gracious in defeat, they were straight over to the Meath players’ hands.

They’ve been both sides of it on All-Ireland final day over the past few years, and by all accounts, had nothing but respect for what the Royals had done.

What happens next appears to be seen, but certainly, expect change aplenty through a long winter of soul-searching in the capital.

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