I have a few vague but treasured memories of the aftermath of Meath’s All Ireland win of 1988. Being on the shoulders of the late John McCrory for the homecoming and then Sean Boylan, Brendan Reilly and Liam Hayes bringing the Sam Maguire into the school.
Those were the days which inspired my age group to catch the ‘bug’ which has made GAA such a central and beloved facet of life for so many of us. 1996 was like having Christmas the twelve months of the year.
Especially because from the time I became properly attuned to the GAA, Meath had lost All Ireland finals in 1990 and 1991 and come up short against Dublin for three consecutive years in 1993, ’94 and ’95. What made the unlikely triumph of 1996 even more enjoyable for me was that throughout that entire summer and winter, what are now my living quarters were under construction and nearly every one of the workmen on the job were steeped in GAA.
Main contractor Cyril Maguire is a former Meath Hurler of the Year, electrician Mick Costello was on the Meath panel which reached the 1970 All Ireland SFC Final, plumber Dom Reilly went on to be Chairman of the Meath Hurling Board, kitchen fitters Christy Ryan and Damian Dixon were attached to Summerhill and Moynalvey respectively. Also on the job, mind you, was Eamonn Murray of Murray Tile Creations.
Through GAA and other connections, I’ve managed to stay in touch with nearly all the lads in the ensuing quarter century. Ironically Eamonn a bit less than some of the others. However, as well as the six Dunboyne players involved, Eamonn directing matters on the sideline gave yours truly an even more especial link to their momentous breakthrough.
Several thoughts abounded once they had finally attained their Holy Grail. As was posted on Facebook in the immediate aftermath of their liberation, All Ireland titles aren’t won on one day. Rather, over the course of months or – in this case – years. Which, at inter county level these days, means a large group of players, mentors and backroom teams, and partners thereof, putting their entire lives on hold for the duration of – if not longer than – the duration of an entire campaign.
Now factor in that this Meath team have, in recent years lost a National League Final and two consecutive All Ireland finals to Tyrone and Tipperary respectively. Thus, the tears of joy streaming from team Captain Maire O’Shaughnessy were wholly understandable, especially as the Donaghmore/Ashbourne club lady has soldiered on Meath teams in good days and bad for longer than most.
Indeed, it brought this mind back to my first book, released two and a bit years ago now, Heroics And Heartache. Not only is it an excellent summation of the journey this Meath team have shared, but, doesn’t it seem like a poignantly fitting encapsulation of what Covid-19 has done to the entire world this year and will continue to for God knows how long yet.
This corner has no problem admitting there was a serious lump in throat here when Murray’s mighty ladies did make it over the line. For a lot of reasons. Not being there, yet conversely, the joy which a sporting victory can give to so many. But, perhaps the biggest part of the gulp was caused by a combination of the first factor highlighted and the involvement of so many of our own at the coalface of the quest for overdue glory.
It is said death and taxes are the only certainties in life. You can probably add the fact that, in GAA at least, you will lose more finals than you win. Therefore, nobody could hardly be blamed if the scepticism, the doubts became overwhelming for our protagonists.
However, one could only think of the old adage which decrees What doesn’t break you will only make you stronger. Particulary when the Lake County put three goals past Monica McGuirk very early on. Owing to the amount of knowhow and ghosts needing to be exorcised, there was never a doubt in my mind that only something mountainous would stop the Royal ladies from reaching their summit.
“If you concede four goals, you don’t usually win All Irelands”Eamonn Murray
The Meath boss’s thoughts above are fairly self explanatory, but, when they were spotted, it enabled me to recall the old Latin saying Fortitudo In Adversis – strength in adversity. When the going got tough, the leaders within this gifted group of women stood up and took control of their own fate.
As early as the 12th minute in fact. When full back Sarah Wall landed awkwardly in front of the Meath goal. Thereafter, though, her sister Vikki (above) and Emma Duggan, in particular, combined superbly. Leaving it, from a Dunboyne perspective at least, as near to a homegrown All Ireland as there could be. In that sense, we’ve been here before, haven’t we!
Our heroines, mind you, were numbered among a brave, classy and battle-hardened pride of lionesses, led brilliantly by O’Shaughnessy – especially when the cat went to visit the pigeons – who was ably supported by Megan Thynne and Niamh O’Sullivan and Brldgetta Lynch and Stacey Grimes and substitute Aoibheann Leahy.
Somebody directly involved with the Ladies Football scene in Meath said to me earlier in the year -before cursed Covid lives and life – “You that likes a punt, have a few bob on Dunboyne to win the county championship and Meath to win the All Ireland”. Did I? Of course not – never thought of it until the match was over!
Gut feeling is to think the opportunity to engage in said wager will crop up again fairly soon.