‘These are heroes, and will be heroes for life if they never kick another ball’

Meath announce their arrival on the national sporting stage with historic win over Dublin

Come all you royal heroes.

In winning a first senior All-Ireland, at the first attempt, taking out the four-time defending champions in the process, Meath have announced their arrival on the country's sporting stage in a way few had ever thought possible or indeed imagined.

Except of course themselves – the Meath players and manager Eamonn Murray universally assertive of one thing in the aftermath of their historic two-point win over Dublin: they'd come to Croke Park truly believing this would be their day, and nothing about the esteemed nature of their opposition would deny them.

Three years ago Meath were in women’s football oblivion and losing matches by 40 points. Only last December, Murray guided them to the intermediate title, before securing promotion to division one earlier this summer. Now they’re the best team in the land and utterly deservedly so.

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“These are heroes, and will be heroes for life if they never kick another ball,” said a beaming Murray afterwards. “They’ll go down in history.”

Indeed they will. If the upturn in form wasn't magnificent enough, it was suitably matched by the manner in which Meath went about it, taking the game to Dublin from the throw-in and by half-time building a five-point cushion that was built around the wonderful opportunistic goal from forward Emma Duggan after just seven minutes – the teenager from Dunboyne winning a kick-out and deftly firing it back over the Dublin goalkeeper and into the net.

“I never questioned they wouldn’t win, and I mean that,” added Murray. “We never questioned for one minute. We knew this year, we set out to win every game, and same as today, they showed no sign of panic.

‘Class outfit’

“Dublin are a class outfit, an unbelievable team. To be the best you have to beat the best and we certainly did that today. We were by far the best team today. We had the luck with us all year but it’s not luck when you beat all of these top teams. They are a very special bunch of players I’m dealing with here.

“We probably beat them [Dublin] at their own game a wee bit, and that’s no harm. They’ve come a long way in their physical strength, and we needed that to beat Dublin. We need to forget about the bad days now, those bad days are gone, thank God.”

Meath forward Niamh O'Sullivan was among those to experience those bad days, the former captain from Dunshaughlin stepping away from the game for a few years, such was the apparent futility of the exercise. Here, she kicked three fantastic points from play, adding to the ceaseless attacking play built around Duggan and Vikki Wall.

“The toughest game I’ve ever played in, definitely,” said O’Sullivan. “We knew coming down today the pace would be a lot quicker, but the girls gave it everything, the girls coming off the bench. Thankfully the trusty left leg was working today, but in this team it’s about giving the ball to the right person, and it doesn’t matter who scores.

“We knew it would be a physical battle, but we played our own game, and I think we really came out and performed. Though I still think it’s a dream, it’s so fantastic, the crowd getting behind us as well.”

Special team

Indeed it takes a special team and special group of players to deny a Dublin team poised, it seemed, to win a fifth title in succession, all heads and hearts in the game saying it was a game for Dublin to lose. Instead the Croke Park attendance – capped at 40,000 for the three finals – were treated to a masterclass from Meath in tactical distinction and execution.

Afterwards, Dublin manager Mick Bohan was reduced to tears in admiration for his team and what they've done since he took charge after they lost the 2016 final to Cork.

“I can say hand on heart that whatever we as a management team has given them in sport, they have given us way more,” said Bohan. “I look back to five years ago, and on the back of three All-Ireland defeats, I suppose today was the end of a road for probably half a dozen of that group.

“We were making errors that we normally don’t, some of those offloads, but ultimately they had a couple of systems, and unless you’ve come up against them before, they’re quite unusual. They were playing a double centre-back, they filtered players back aggressively, from the point of view of the ferocity they got back.

“And their conditioning. I don’t know, I thought we were really in good shape, but it got to the stage in the contest they were matching us hell for leather in every single contest on the field. So fair play to them.”

All royal heroes now.