Meath 2-8 Donegal 1-9
It’s worth reminding ourselves that only 16 months ago Meath had never even won an All-Ireland intermediate championship.
Records, and opposition, have all tumbled like dominoes in the meantime in front of this remarkable Royal County team who now possess the two most significant cups in the game as All-Ireland senior title holders and Lidl Division One champions.
“There isn’t much left to win now - husband of the year maybe, I didn’t get that yet,” smiled Meath manager Eamonn Murray.
Given how he has inspired, encouraged and cajoled this group, we don’t doubt that he may yet win that award too.
Just like last September’s landmark Championship triumph against Dublin, Meath required all their character to see off Donegal and to add the Division One title to the Division Two crown they picked up in 2021.
Meath led by seven points with just four minutes left in the first half. Five minutes into the second half, they trailed by one. It was some turnaround and it required a particularly gutsy final 25 minutes or so from Meath to get the job done.
Niamh O’Sullivan’s 40th minute goal was crucial, putting the favourites into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish with Vikki Wall’s 54th minute point proving to be the insurance score.
You could argue that there isn’t much left for Meath to win now, that their appetite may have been sated by the last few months, though Murray rejected that out of hand.
“Not at all, if you knew this bunch of girls you could give them 50 sprints to do and they’d ask for 50 more,” said the Cavan native who declared himself “a very proud Meath man today.”
“And they’re still young, so they won’t burn out or anything. Look, there’s no problem with this bunch, they’d train seven nights a week if you asked them. They are a very close bunch, they’ll enjoy tonight and probably tomorrow but after that it will be back to training. All is good, we’re looking forward to the summer; warmer days, drier days.”
A Leinster championship of sorts will be played this year - Dublin and Westmeath are the other teams involved - and with Dublin first up in that competition for Meath, that should be enough to command their full focus.
They will strive for vital consistency and a more rounded performance. The sublime - Meath led 1-6 to 0-2 after 26 minutes - was mixed with the ridiculous - they then conceded 1-5 without response - in this Jekyll and Hyde performance.
Donegal, who conjured two goals in the space of 23 seconds late in the semi-final win over Dublin, led 1-7 to 1-6 with 20 minutes to go.
It appeared they’d gotten to grips with Meath’s counter attacking strategy and while they racked up 11 wides overall, their efficiency during that blitzkrieg period was high.
Of that 1-5 that Donegal reeled off, 1-4 of it came when Meath were down to 14 players following the sin-binning of Mary Kate Lynch for the foul that led to Donegal’s 27th minute penalty which Niamh McLaughlin dispatched.
“I think it was a bit harsh, the penalty,” argued Murray. “Mary Kate was falling that way, she just fell across her.”
Referee Garryowen McMahon frustrated Meath with various calls though they rose above all their difficulties to deliver when it truly counted.
Orlagh Lally tied the game up at 1-7 apiece before All-Star Emma Duggan picked out O’Sullivan with a sublime pass for a sumptuous second Meath goal.
They only scored once again after that, a tidy Wall point, but it was enough to keep them just in front.
“Better to win by two rather than by 12,” claimed Murray afterwards.
Meath: M McGuirk; K Newe, MK Lynch, S Ennis; A Cleary, E Troy, A Leahy; M O'Shaughnessy, V Wall (0-1); K Nesbitt (1-1), O Lally (0-2), M Thynne; N O'Sullivan (1-1), E Duggan (0-2, 1 free), S Grimes (0-1).
Subs: B Lynch for Nesbitt (38 mins), N Gallogly for Leahy (52 mins), W White for Thynne (52 mins), O Byrne for Lally (56 mins), O Duff for O'Sullivan (60 mins).
Donegal: R McCafferty; N Carr, E McGinley, N Boyle; T Hegarty, N McLaughlin, A Boyle Carr; K Herron, R Rodgers; B McLaughlin, N McLaughlin (1-0, pen), S Twohig; Y Bonner (0-2), K Guthrie (0-3, 2 frees), G McLaughlin (0-4, 1 free).
Subs: N Hegarty for T Hegarty (40 mins), T Kennedy for Boyle (49 mins), E McCrory for Twohig (56 mins).
Referee: G McMahon (Mayo).