Katie Newe insists All-Ireland champions Meath are no one-hit wonder
There are days from childhood which stay with you, the warm feeling of a happy memory growing ever more comforting the older you get. If you are lucky, these days will play a part in the person you become.
Katie Newe is just 22 years of age. She has played in four All-Ireland finals with Meath, losing the first two, winning the next two, including the extraordinary senior win last year over reigning champions Dublin. It was a win which caught the imagination of the Irish sporting public like few other team victories of the recent past.
Her earliest sporting memories are under 6 camogie with her club, Ratoath, followed by under 8 football. But it was the start of her Meath journey, 10 years ago now, which left a mark.
One of the great events on the ladies’ football calendar is the under 12 Leinster blitz, held for many years in Carlow and, more recently, Portlaoise. It’s a day like no other, with hundreds of 11- and 12-year-old girls buzzing with the joy and enthusiasm of representing their county. Meath often brought three teams to the blitz.
“I think all the girls on the [current] team remember the under 12 blitz in Carlow,” says Newe. “We have pictures of the team and some of the faces, they are absolute babies. We’d all kind of stick together all the way up and it’s only really when you get to senior ladies’ football that all the groups amalgamate and [share] the different stories from that blitz. It’s such a trip. It’s what you train for all year with the under 12s.”
This is where the seeds of an improbable All-Ireland were sown, under the care of Ollie Bowe, a man with a reputation for developing young players. “He’s at the start of everyone’s Meath career basically,” she says of him. Current teammate and friend Orlagh Lally, who has just signed up with Fremantle Dockers in the AFLW, was there that day too when they were beaten in a final.
From that platform, Newe’s Meath career progressed through the underage ranks, although she admits to being initially reluctant to join the minor set-up in her first year.
“I wasn’t going to play in my younger age group, you know the way it’s two years, but Eamonn [Murray] was the manager of the minors at the time and he got in contact with me and asked me to come up and give it a go. I thought I wouldn’t have time with school and stuff but he encouraged me to come up and it was that year that I went in with the senior team ... thanks to Eamonn.”
And Murray has been her county manager ever since, at minor and senior. Newe’s career has coincided with unprecedented success for Meath, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing — there have been plenty of hard knocks on the way too, most notably back-to-back defeats in the All-Ireland intermediate finals of 2018 and 2019.
“Up until 2020, I’d have said we haven’t really had success, because we got to the final in 2018 and lost, in 2019 and lost, and I was going back in 2020 and people around [me] were like, ‘you’re going back?’, and the pressure would be on you because you’d been losing those big matches.”
Meath had endured some dark days and heavy defeats at senior level, none worse than in August 2015 when Cork scored seven goals in a 40-point win live on TG4. Eamonn Murray later recalled that “nobody wanted to play for Meath at that time”.
The mystery, though, was that there appeared to be a conveyor belt of talent being brought through, yet it never quite translated to senior level. Most years in Carlow, Ollie Bowe’s teams were the envy of the rest. But something was missing.
“I came up in 2017 when the new management came in so I really got the best of senior ladies’ football in Meath because I hadn’t had any of the bad days before,” says Newe.
“A lot of the girls would tell you about it — chopping and changing management. The talent was there, there probably just wasn’t enough commitment to them and resources put in. It makes you realise things, because definitely the older girls have tried to explain it to the younger girls on the team that we really need to take advantage when we have good management and a good team and support.”
When Murray took the job in 2017, things slowly started to change. He knows the Meath scene inside out, and he knew the players were there, and that there were more coming through, but he had a hard job to persuade many of them to give it a go.
He was also honest enough to know he needed to bring in people around him who could properly address any weaknesses. “It works well because Eamonn is the manager and then Paul [Garrigan], Shane [Wall] and Mark [Brennan] and the others can do their thing in the background and not have to deal with media and all that,” says Newe. Murray’s backroom team has been crucial to the turnaround.
So much has changed on the Meath ladies’ football scene now. Where once Páirc Tailteann was pretty much off-limits, it has become very much a home ground for the team, with games and training sessions more common there. The same goes for the county’s centre of excellence, Dunganny. Access to these venues, she says, is “normalised” now. “Even for younger kids, it’s normalised.”
The 2018 intermediate final was a case of inexperience being ruthlessly exposed on the big day as Tyrone scored six goals. “That was the first time most of us played in Croke Park and I think the occasion got to us,” says Newe.
A year later, Tipperary also had too much know-how, but Meath were clearly knocking on the door. They finally got over the line in 2020 against Westmeath, getting back up to senior ranks just four years after applying for relegation. Meath did not want to be in the senior grade, making up numbers — they wanted to earn the right to be there.
“Paul [Garrigan] was saying the other week that the last time he felt proper pressure was in that 2020 All-Ireland final because we were going [there] for the third time and we couldn’t lose again.”
At the start of 2021, Meath’s management and players had a three-year plan with the ultimate goal of winning the All-Ireland. The first job, though, was to avoid relegation as there was a history of promoted teams going straight back down. So it was all about stability, growing as a team, and bringing in new players to give greater strength in depth.
“We weren’t focusing on the All-Ireland final so there was that freedom [for us] just to go out and play and perform. There was such good vibes in the camp, in training and everything. You’d go to training and you’d be enjoying yourself, and you’d feel good after training. It just kept working out for us, and we kept giving the proper performances that we needed.
“We want to continue that this year. Paul wants to embed that there’s no pressure on us. We just want to keep performing and playing with freedom this year. That’s our focus.”
From the start, a lot of the emphasis with this management team and group of players has been on performance. That was the mantra all through last year’s campaign, and in a sense this year it’s even more important because Meath are no longer a surprise package.
Whereas last year teams may not have done their homework as diligently, there’s no doubt that there is huge focus on them this year — how they play, who their key players are, and a lot of time has been spent by opposition teams breaking them down and working out how best to set up against them. The element of surprise is long gone.
Winning this year’s league was an important next step. Despite being All-Ireland champions, it was almost as if there was still something to prove.
“We shouldn’t have had to prove anything, but in a way it did show everyone outside of the camp that we weren’t just a one-hit wonder and that we actually meant business, competing at the top.
“We’re still the new team on the block and we want to play with freedom. We don’t want to let our success put pressure on us and disrupt our performance. We just want to continue playing with freedom.”
Katie Newe is a Beko ambassador