MEATH 1-11 DUBLIN 0-12
There are crazy odds and expectations around some All-Ireland finals and rarely have they been defied the like this one. In winning a first senior women's title, at their very first shot, Meath raised their game and everything within it, and in the end what had seemed so unlikely was cleanly cemented in history.
It finished with Dublin hurling all they had at Meath to draw level, Hannah Tyrrell making it a two-point game with three minutes remaining. When Dublin's final shot at goal, by Niamh McEvoy, drifted just wide, Meath held onto possession with a maturity and patience and fearlessness beyond all their experience. The hooter sounded like a siren for the ages and the considerable Meath support in Croke Park soaked up every living moment of it.
In truth Meath took control from the throw-in, both teams making it a breathtaking contest that never let up and produced several outstanding scores.
It was a tactical masterclass by Meath manager Eamonn Murray, the deadly high press on the Dublin kick-outs working wonders – and particularly in the first half, during which Meath built a five-point cushion, enough to see them home.
Murray had guided the county to a first senior women’s final, having won the intermediate title only last December, and a league division two title earlier this year. Dublin had been lauded as the team set make it five in a row, a sixth title in all – that era soundly praised afterwards as Meath captain Shauna Ennis lifted the Brendan Martin cup for the first time in the history of the Royal County.
Much of the Meath game was built around the fantastic attacking force of Vikki Wall and Emma Duggan – passes all over the field sticking like darts to the board – and utterly dogged defending.
It took Meath 15 minutes to produce their first score in the second half, only that didn’t matter. Two more points from Duggan and Niamh O’Sullivan was enough to close out the deal which had been brokered so convincingly in the first half.
Tyrrell finished with 0-7, Dublin’s top scorer, who only returned to the panel this year after seven years away. Sinéad Aherne’s single point was Dublin’s only return from their full forward line, the Meath defence built around full back Mary Kate Lynch as mean as they come.
Still, few could have imagined Meath would be up on the champions 1-8 to 0-6 at half-time, in part because Meath hit the ground sprinting, Wall winning the throw-in and racing down at goal to win a free – duly converted by Stacey Grimes. It was game on and Dublin knew it.
That set the tone and the trend, Meath relentless in the opening quarter. Dublin captain Aherne levelled it on three minutes, before Meath set off again, O’Sullivan scoring her first of three brilliant points from play off her left boot.
Then, on seven minutes, Duggan produced a moment of football magic. The 18-year-old from Dunboyne, who got her Leaving Cert results last week, had moments before a shot at goal that drifted just wide. From the Dublin kick-out, aimed at Tyrrell, she made a brilliant interception and with that promptly chipped the ball over Ciara Trant who was caught just off her line, and fell back helplessly as the ball dropped into the net.
That spurred Meath even more, Emma Troy charging up from corner back to score twice from play. O'Sullivan added a second, with another free too for Grimes.
Dublin looked – and were – rattled, struggling for sure with Meath’s defensive set-up and more so their ability to counterattack. On 19 minutes Tyrrell did have one clear shot at goal, only for Monica McGuirk to make a brilliantly confident save. Further tone set.
Meath’s ability to turnover the ball was ceaseless. They hit three points in a row in the closing 10 minutes of the half, before Tyrrell hit one back from play. Just before the break Duggan worked her teenage wonder with a score from play, leaving Meath with that five-point cushion at the break.
Maire O’Shaughnessy was majestic at midfield alongside Orla Lally, Ennis leading by example in so much of her defensive work, Bridgetta Lynch also scoring a beauty from play in the first half.
Afterwards Dublin manager Mick Bohan paid sincere tribute to the fitness and athleticism of the Meath team, admitting at times they simply beat Dublin at their own game. Meath had already created one of the lasting tales of this championship: the upstart making a breakthrough; in this final they saved the best until last, taking down the champions to write their own chapter in women’s football history.
MEATH: M McGuirk; E Troy (0-2), M.K. Lynch, K Newe; A Leahy, A Cleary, S Ennis (capt); O Lally, M O'Shaughnessy; O Byrne, S Grimes (0-3, two frees), N O'Sullivan (0-3); V Wall, E Duggan (1-2), B Lynch (0-1). Subs: M Thynne for Lynch, N Gallogly for Ennis (both 45 mins), E White for O'Sullivan (59 mins), S Melia for Lally (60 mins).
DUBLIN: C Trant; M Byrne (0-1), N Collins, L Caffrey; S Goldrick, S McGrath, O Nolan; J Dunne, L Magee; H Tyrrell (0-7, three frees), L Davey (0-1), C Rowe (0-1); S Aherne (capt) (0-1), N Hetherton, S Killeen. Subs: C O'Connor for Hetherton (28 mins), O Carey for McGrath, N McEvoy for Killeen (both half-time), K Sullivan (0-1) for Nolan (45 mins), A Kane for Davey (55 mins).
Referee: Brendan Rice (Down).