There was plenty of talk ahead of last month’s TG4 All-Ireland football final about Meath wanting to prove that they weren’t one-hit wonders, that their maiden senior triumph over Dublin the year before was just the beginning of them being a force in football, rather than a glorious flash in the pan.
But when they found themselves five points down after just seven minutes of the final, there might have been those who wondered if 2021 was indeed a one-off, if Kerry were going to down the reigning champions and add their name to the roll of honour for the first time since 1993.
So much for that. As Niamh O’Sullivan put it, “us Meath women know how to stand up and fight, and we surely did that today”. Her county, she added, don’t do panic.
The corner-forward’s role in that panic-free fight earned her the player of the match award, but as she was quick to point out when presented with her prize, any number of her comrades could have been singled out, among them half-backs Aoibhín Cleary and Emma Troy who were both outstanding, as was Vikki Wall further up the field, while Bridgetta Lynch made a big impact from the bench.
But even aside from her contribution of a goal and two points, a tally matched only by Kerry’s Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh on the day, O’Sullivan played a huge part in Meath recovering from that early deficit and finding their feet in the game, her energy, pace and aggression unsettling the Kerry defence, not least for their kick-outs when the Dunshaughlin Royal Gaels player never gave them a moment’s peace.
Her 45th minute goal proved pivotal, coming at a stage when Meath were struggling to shake off Kerry’s challenge, the score stretching their lead from two points to five and from there they pulled away. Lynch added another goal three minutes later, Meath going on to win by a comfortable nine points. There ended that one-hit wonder chat.
No sooner had they raised the Brendan Martin Cup for the second year running when the talk turned to Meath’s chances of making it a three-in-a-row, and whether those prospects would be impacted by the departure of Wall and Orlaith Lally to the AFLW, with Troy also heading to Australia for non-footballing reasons. Not to mention the question marks over whether manager Eamonn Murray and some of his back room staff will still be at the helm next year.
O’Sullivan, though, dismissed any notion that her county might struggle to remain a force, pointing to the raft of gifted young players coming through the ranks, all of them inspired by the achievements of the 32-year-old and her team-mates.
“Meath are on the rise,” she said, “that’s for sure. We won’t be going anywhere soon.”
You suspect she’ll be proven right.
Previous Monthly Winners (the awards run from December 2021 to November 2022, inclusive):
December: Ellen Walshe (Swimming) — The young Dubliner became the first Irish woman to medal at a World Championships when she took silver in the 400m Individual Medley in Abu Dhabi. Along the way, she broke five Irish records, smashing the oldest, Michelle Smith’s 1994 400m Individual Medley mark.
January: Lucy Mulhall (Rugby) — The Wicklow woman captained Ireland to their first ever World Rugby Sevens Series final in Seville and was named in the team of the tournament. She and her team-mates took that form to Bucharest last month where Mulhall led them to qualification for September’s World Cup.
February: Leona Maguire (Golf) — The highlight of another excellent season for Maguire came at the Drive On Championship in Florida where she became the first Irish woman to win on the LPGA Tour. And she now has three top 10 finishes in majors to her name, including last weekend’s share of fourth at the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield.
March: Rachael Blackmore (Horse racing) — Our 2021 sportswoman of the year had another Cheltenham to remember, winning The Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle and the Gold Cup on A Plus Tard — making her the holder of those two crowns as well as the English Grand National all at the same time.
April: Katie Taylor (Boxing) — Our five-time Sportswoman of the Year made herself a contender for the overall award yet again after an epic fight against Amanda Serrano in front of a crowd of 20,000 in Madison Square Garden. The 35-year-old, now unbeaten in 21 professional fights, retained her WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO lightweight titles with a split decision victory.
May: Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke (Boxing) — Following in the path of Katie Taylor, Michael Conlan and Kellie Harrington, the pair brought to five the number of Ireland’s amateur world champions when they both struck gold at the World Championships in Turkey. And last weekend Broadhurst added a Commonwealth Games gold medal to her collection.
June: Rhasidat Adeleke (Athletics) — It’s been a terrific year for the 19-year-old who has broken five Irish records since January. And in June she became the first Irish woman to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association sprint title when she was part of the triumphant University of Texas team in the 4x100m.