Today was the last big day of the inter-county football year and over 44,000 turned up to Croke Park this afternoon for the LGFA All-Ireland finals. I didn’t get there in time to see the Junior or Intermediate deciders but I was there in the Upper Cusack for the Senior decider between Meath and Kerry.
The Kingdom’s march to this year’s final – and their hopes of capturing the Brendan Martin Cup today – was built on their ability to get goals. We saw this at close quarters when we met them in the semi-finals, a game in which we shipped four majors against them, scores that decided the tie in their favour.
When Kerry raced into a 1-2 to 0-0 lead early on in today’s All-Ireland decider, it looked as if the winning template that had got them to the final was going to work for them again today. It was, for certain, a dream start for them and for their star forward, Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh, who bagged 1-1 of that opening salvo.
Once Meath got going, however, any such notions Kerry might have had were quickly tamped down. After Stacey Grimes opened their account, Emma Troy – whose powerful runs from deep were a feature all day – got on the end of a rapid move and crashed the ball to the net.
Soon the champions were ahead and ahead they’d stay till the end. They led by three at the break but the game was still in the balance then, all the more so when Kerry got the opening two scores of the second half, to leave just a single point between the sides.
That was as close as they got, though, with Emma Duggan, who’d seen a few point attempts from play fall short, landing a free from distance to bag Meath’s first score of the half. The contest then went into a bit of a lull, with neither team posting a score for ten minutes.
All of a sudden, the champions stirred themselves. In a devastating two-minute spell they got two goals, scores which all but ended Kerry’s challenge.
The first came from a quick counter-attack, with Stacey Grimes opting not to shoot but instead lofting it across to the in-rushing Niamh O’Sullivan who palmed it to the net.
Stacey Grimes was involved in the next goal too, taking a pass from the marauding Vikki Wall and letting off a shot that was partially blocked, the ball spinning upwards dangerously close to goal. Meath sub Bridgetta Lynch got a touch on it but the ball cannoned back off the upright, with the same player collecting it and lashing it home.
There was no way back for Kerry after that. The departure of Vikki Wall to the sin bin five minutes from time made no discernible difference, either, the only score after that was the final one of the day. This was lamped over joyously by Niamh O’Sullivan, who was afterwards named as Player of the Match.
There was much to like about Meath’s win today. They had the same energetic, hard running style that blew Dublin away in last year’s final and Kerry, like Dublin back then, had no answer when Meath took the game to them today.
When they toppled Dublin in last year’s final, Meath were the upstarts who’d shocked everyone by storming the citadel. Today, by contrast, they oozed class and confidence as they confirmed their position as the new establishment.
They are, for sure, the dominant force in the women’s game right now. Congrats to them on what was a well deserved All-Ireland triumph today.