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'They are a very special bunch' - Eamonn Murray left emotional as Meath climb mountain once again


Shauna Ennis celebrates with the trophy after Meath won their second All-Ireland SFC in a row. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Shauna Ennis celebrates with the trophy after Meath won their second All-Ireland SFC in a row. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Shauna Ennis celebrates with the trophy after Meath won their second All-Ireland SFC in a row. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Eamonn Murray was still trying to gather his thoughts when the cavalry arrived. Two of his on-field lieutenants, Máire O’Shaughnessy and Aoibhín Cleary, were led into the auditorium. “Here come some of the stars now,” Murray beamed.

It was a fifth All-Ireland final on the spin for this Meath team and a third successive win after their breakthrough intermediate success of last year, but Murray still seemed surprised at the ground they had covered in that time.

“They are a very special bunch,” he replied, when it was put to him that it takes a great team to win back-to-back senior All-Irelands.

“And it takes a very special bunch to go two in a row. We started the year quietly, won the league without playing well and started the championship. We were getting better and better but we kept the best until last today. And it’s good they gave us a handy day out today and not have us sweating at the end.”

Murray was referencing Meath’s habit of bringing games to the wire. Against Galway, they needed an Emma Duggan buzzer-beater to see them through. And down to 14 against Donegal in the semi-final they also found a way. This time, as they wore down the clock, the game had long since been secured.

Two goals down the home straight knocked the life from Kerry, who didn’t score from the 35th minute on. From there Meath managed the clock and left no doubt.

The way the game fizzled out was a far cry from the start, when Meath were 1-2 to no score down after just seven minutes – with Kerry’s goal coming after the normally solid Meath kick-out malfunctioned. Experience, though, kept Meath in it.

“We are quite good at not panicking,” midfielder O’Shaughnessy explained. “We have been further behind at different times throughout the last couple of years and it hasn’t fazed us. We are just a team that doesn’t really do panic.

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“Even in terms of the personalities on the team, it is a very chilled bunch. Everyone is quite laid-back and easy-going. That is probably the key to why we all get on so well. There is no big, big personality. Everyone is very chilled. Under pressure, we just perform. That has been drilled into us from our management team.

“We practice and practice, we spend hours and hours and hours, we are always the last to leave Dunganny ( Meath GAA centre of Excellence). We do these things over and over again. When you practice things that much, it just becomes habit.

“We knew what Kerry were going to bring, we knew they were fantastically skilled footballers, especially at getting goals, so it wasn’t a shock.

“We just knew we had to switch on then and not leave more goals go in and leave us with a mountain to climb. No, panic didn’t set in.”

Meath had powerful performers all over the pitch. As ever the defensive effort was sound, with Kerry’s 1-7 the lowest total they managed in the championship this year. Niamh O’Sullivan hit 1-2 from play and picked up the official player of the match award.

Emma Troy was brilliant too, popping up with a settling goal when Meath were shipping water and in Aoibhín Cleary, the Royals had a stand-out player, gifted with an extraordinary engine and a brilliant sense of timing.

Just last year they were the new kids on the block, who scalped the game’s big two in Cork and Dublin in successive outings. Now this Meath team bestride the game.

“I think all year it’s been completely different,” O’Shaughnessy continued. “I know people have been saying we haven’t been playing as well this year but look, I don’t see it like that – other teams have gotten better. It’s such a tough competition.

“It really is just great for ladies football. The bar is constantly, constantly rising. We haven’t been allowed play our game. That’s not because we’re not playing it, it’s because teams aren’t letting us.

“The standard of ladies football is rising and rising. It’s such a privilege to be involved in such a competitive team and such a competitive competition. It’s more a testament to other teams than a fault of ours.”

Murray was determined not to look too far ahead but there was emotion in his voice too. Later this week, Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally will head Down Under to belatedly join their new AFLW clubs. What this Meath group will look like when they reconvene for 2023 is uncertain.

“You have to get [emotional] losing players and stuff. You’re probably good enough to win three or four in a row, but we will worry about that next week.

“I won’t worry about that, they have two All-Irelands in their pocket. They will go with pride and their heads up, and we wish them luck. And we look forward to them coming back, and they will be back. I know they will.”

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