The moral of this inspirational Meath story? Stick with it

Team travelled from soul-destroying depths to the very top of the game

Sport has the happy knack of producing the loveliest of stories, the zero-to-hero kind that can leave those in the struggling category wondering if anything is, after all, possible if you just stick with it and don’t let the bad days grind you down.

The story of this Meath women's Gaelic football team will, though, take some topping in the inspirational department.

On Sunday in Croke Park, they produced – and, honest, this is no exaggeration – one of the biggest upsets in the history of Irish sport when, in their first ever senior All Ireland final, they beat a Dublin team that has had a steely grip on the game for the past four years and was hunting a five-in-a-row.

The Dubs hadn’t lost a Championship game since the 2016 final, the same year Meath chose to be relegated from the senior to intermediate ranks after suffering one trouncing after another, the most humiliating of all a 40-point defeat by Cork.


That score-line of Meath 0-3, Cork 7-22 was burned in to the memories of players like Vikki Wall, who played in that game, the Dunboyne woman talking to this paper last week about how she'd cry in the car on the way home with her dad from games back then after experiencing yet another hammering. "All we did was lose."

She, and a whole bunch of her team-mates, refused to give in, though, convinced that they could turn their county’s fortunes around. Others might have wiggled their eyebrows at the chances of that happening. Meath had, after all, the mother of all mountains to climb. They were starting at zero.

Big guns

As recently as 2019 they were playing in division three of the National League, a world away from mixing it with the big guns like Dublin and Cork. But by then Eamonn Murray had taken over, their fourth manager in two years, and he set about rebuilding the confidence of his players.

And year by year they clawed it back, losing two intermediate All-Ireland finals until they returned to the senior ranks last December by beating Westmeath in the All-Ireland intermediate final.

But outside of Meath, few, if any, gave the underdogs much chance of even retaining their senior status, and a snowball’s chance of reaching the final.

That senior status was, though, secured by the time they reached last month’s semi-final against Cork, but their 2021 journey appeared to be over . . . until they scored 2-1 in the last five minutes to take the game in to extra time. During which they saw off the team that once beat them by 40 points.

Beating the Dubs, though? Na, no chance.

They talked the talk beforehand, they’d respect Dublin but not fear them, they’d enjoy the occasion, all that. And you thought, “ah bless – they’ll be pulverised”.

First minute, Wall storms through the centre, wins a free, Stacey Grimes converts, and you're thinking, hmm, this bunch actually look like they have no fear.

Emma Duggan lobs the Dublin goalie and when the ball nestles in the net, Meath are five points up. They're playing with a swagger, hunting in packs, counter-attacking at pace and in numbers. Fearless. The Dubs are rattled, like they haven't been for five years, Meath putting it up to them like no county has done in that time. Dublin won their last three All-Ireland finals by five points, by half-time on Sunday that was the margin of Meath's advantage.

Second half. Meath don’t score for 16 minutes, the Dubs narrow the gap to two points, here we go, five in a row.

Then the quite brilliant Niamh O'Sullivan scores from the narrowest of angles on the left. Three points up again. Hannah Tyrrell pulls one back, nerves a-jangling, Royal hearts in their mouths. Then Wall bursts forward, wins a free with 37 seconds to go. They play keep-ball. And then it's all over. And the raw emotion from Wall and her team-mates is a sight to behold, a team that travelled from the soul-destroying depths to a day like this.

Wall is named player of the match. She most probably cried on her way home to Dunboyne, but this time they’d have been tears of unbridled joy.

The moral of the story? Stick with it.