THE leap from greatness to legendary status was streamlined with consummate ease as Meath put back-to-back titles together in terrific style in this TG4 All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park on Sunday.
The magnitude of what was achieved might not sink in for months or, indeed, years after the holders produced their most impressive outing of the campaign to brush aside the Kerry challenge.
It was an electric atmosphere throughout, and while the history-makers made a slow start to proceedings they more than made up for it as the game progressed and were winners long before the final hooter.
A much-vaunted Kerry attack made a dream start to proceedings as they rocked the champions with a goal and two points in the opening seven minutes.
But if that shook Meath it didn’t show and they demonstrated the style of true champions, replying with a goal and three points of their own to be ahead by the 13th minute. That was a devastating spell from Eamonn Murray’s side and they gradually stretched their lead to four points as the half progressed before having to settle for a 1-8 to 1-5 interval advantage.
Meath played into a slight breeze in that opening half and could easily have been ahead by three or four more points at half-time as a number of efforts dropped short, while a few more chances went the wrong side of the posts.
Kerry also started the second half in determined mood and had the deficit down to the minimum by the 35th minute. However they didn’t manage to add to their tally after that as Meath upped the tempo, and a brace of goals in a four-minute spell ensured that the Brendan Martin Cup would be returning to the Royal County for another 12 months.
Meath simply suffocated their opponents for much of that second half, while they counter-attacked with lethal effect. Kerry had registered eight goals in their last two outings, but their only three-pointer on this occasion came from a mix-up in the Meath rearguard.
Monica McGuirk took a short kickout to Katie Newe, but Louise Ni Mhuircheartaigh nipped in and the Kerry sharpshooter lofted the ball over the head of the stranded keeper to the net. Wing back Aishling O’Connell and Ní Mhuircheartaigh had earlier hit points to give the challengers the near perfect start.
Stacey Grimes eventually got Meath off the mark from a free on six minutes and they were back in the game after centre back Emma Troy fired to the net from a Kelsey Nesbitt pass on 10 minutes.
Kerry encountered mixed fortunes with their kickouts in that opening half, ensuring Meath had a plentiful supply of possession even if they didn’t always make the best use of it.
Vikki Wall converted two frees from almost identical positions in as many minutes to push Meath ahead. They then struck for a further three points, making it 1-6 in succession, with Grimes, Troy and Wall on target.
The Kingdom were clinging on by their finger-tips at that stage, but they responded to Meath scores on three different occasions to be well in contention at half-time.
Meath might have been expected to make a dash at the start of the second half, but instead it was Kerry who responded to the challenge with points from O’Shea and Ní Mhuircheartaigh (free) to close the gap to the minimum.
It was game on in earnest at that stage and a pointed free from Emma Duggan eased the pressure. Meath hit three wides in succession after that, while Duggan was short with another effort.
The next score would prove crucial and it fell to Meath on the three quarter hour mark. Emma Duggan won a kickout and combined with substitute Bridgetta Lynch and Stacey Grimes who picked out the lurking Niamh O’Sullivan, and the corner forward palmed to an empty net. That put daylight between the teams and four minutes later Meath applied the killer blow, with Grimes again the provider for Lynch whose initial effort hit the crossbar, but she made no mistake with her second attempt.
The winners finished with 14 after Wall was sin-binned five minutes from the end, while O’Sullivan ended a Player of the Match display with the final point four minutes from the finish.
MEATH: Monica McGuirk; Shauna Ennis, Mary Kate Lynch, Katie Newe; Aoibheann Leahy, Emma Troy 1-1, Aoibhin Cleary; Maire O’Shaughnessy, Orlagh Lally; Megan Thynne, Emma Duggan 0-1f, Kelsey Nesbitt; Vikki Wall 0-3 (2f), Stacey Grimes 0-3 (2f), Niamh O’Sullivan 1-2. Subs: Orla Byrne for Leahy (22), Bridgetta Lynch 1-0 for Nesbitt (42), Orlaith Duff for Newe, Emma White for Grimes, Sarah Wall for Thynne (all 57).
KERRY: Ciara Butler; Julie O’Sullivan, Kayleigh Cronin, Eilis Lynch; Aishling O’Connell, Emma Costello, Ciara Murphy 0-1; Lorraine Scanlon 0-1, Cait Lynch; Niamh Carmody, Siofra O’Shea 0-2, Anna Galvin; Paris McCarthy 0-1, Danielle O’Leary, Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh 1-2 (2f). Subs: Niamh Ni Chonchuir for Carmody (44), Erica McGlynn for McCarthy (45), Aoife Dillane for O’Sullivan (55), Caoimhe Evans for O’Leary (57), Mary O’Connell for A O’Connell (58).
REFEREE: Maggie Farrelly (Cavan)