The Meath team bus pulled up 100 metres shy of the Knightsbrook Hotel on Sunday night, the players sensibly walking the remainder of the journey with the Brendan Martin Cup through the thousands of supporters.
The party switched to Navan yesterday afternoon for the official homecoming, a landmark occasion in the county given the Covid-19 protocols that limited the celebrations for last year’s maiden triumph.
Vikki Wall will give herself over fully to the carnival until Friday before then saying her goodbyes and jumping on a plane to Australia for her new career in the AFLW.
On Saturday week, she expects to play her first pre-season game for North Melbourne, a fortnight before the action begins for real with a home tie against the Gold Coast Suns.
“I had my bags packed before the game, just so I could take that job away,” revealed Wall. “I don’t know what the next few days will look like but hopefully a bit of craic and then say goodbye to people.”
Wall could be forgiven for having mixed feelings about the game she is leaving behind. She gave another strong performance in Sunday’s nine-point final defeat of Kerry, scoring three important points and getting through a tonne of good work, though she cut a frustrated figure at times as a number of refereeing calls went against her.
Some of that was down to the interpretation of match referee Maggie Farrelly – the free against Wall immediately after the throw-in, for instance, was a debatable one – but overall it appears like her ultra physical, all-action style is simply out of kilter with the rulebook.
Sin-binned against Donegal in the semi-final for an accumulation of fouls, Meath manager Eamon Murray predicted last week that the reigning Footballer of the Year would be sent off again in the final and was proven correct as Farrelly brandished yellow with around five minutes remaining.
Much of powerful Wall’s issues lie with the ‘no deliberate body contact’ rule in the LGFA though when she pulls on the North Melbourne guernsey, they won’t just celebrate contact but demand it.
“Yeah, it’s a bit more simple in terms of what you can and can’t do,” said Wall of the oval ball game. “I think there’s a lot of ambiguity around what a tackle is in ladies football at the moment, and this idea of non-contact, which is just, I think, nonsense at this stage.
“Look, I’m looking forward to it, when you’re expecting a bit more physicality, you can probably react to it a bit better, and you’re not trying to win a free, as such, over there.”
Murray described it as a “frustrating” situation for not just Wall but other players too, namechecking Emma Duggan, though he baulked at the suggestion of amending the rules to allow for more physicality, as the players themselves seem to desire.
“I wouldn’t want that, you’d only put players off then,” he said. “Parents wouldn’t allow their kids to play then. We’ve a great sport, let’s keep it going. We just need to improve a few small things, not a lot. It’s a great sport to watch and people love to watch it so why change something that is not broken?”
All of which presents a conundrum for the LGFA as it considers exactly how to navigate the coming years with a set of players at the elite level who have never been so well-conditioned.
The AFLW now offers an alternative – 21 Irish women will compete in the upcoming season – and Wall can’t wait to get going.
“They have a pre-season game on the 3rd of August and another on the 13th, against Adelaide Crows, which I’m hoping to tog out for,” she said.
“I would have been in college with a few of the girls that are out there now, anyone that’s over there has reached out. They’re all so approachable, saying to meet up, tips and tricks of what to bring and what not to pack, stuff as simple as that. They’ve all been great so far. I’m really looking forward to it now.”
Wall declined to go into any detail about the AFLW situation before beating Kerry on Sunday though clearly she had been hard at work behind the scenes.
“I have been working with North Melbourne the last while and doing a few bits and pieces,” she revealed, three weeks out from the start of their season.
“I’m flying out next Friday so I’ve a bit of celebrating to do, a bit of time to spend with the team so I’ll make the most of it for sure.”