Meath manager Brendan Skehan at Birr on Saturday. Photo: David Mullen /

Mighty performance from the players


Neither of the two small but clean and comfortable press boxes at St Brendan's Park, Birr were full last Saturday. In one was yours truly and two people from Kilkenny who were clearly doing updates for a local radio station; a match commentator and his co-commentator, a woman who certainly knew her camogie.

The former was waxing lyrical throughout the game in a brilliant, colourful commentary during which he focused big time, and rightly, on the quality of the fare on display.

"What great hurling, we're seeing here today," he said. "Great stuff."

He had praise for Meath too, their skill and their battling qualities and some of those in green and gold greatly impressed him.

"This is a fair hurler, this Jane Dolan is," he told his listeners at one stage. "Frightening," he added.

At one stage, in an effort to paint a picture for his listeners, he came out with a gem. "There's not a width of a hayseed between the two of them," he said.

He also likened Kilkenny players closing in on a Meath opponent to "wasps around a jam jar."

He was with total justification praising Kilkenny for their workrate and skill as they game drew to a close.

He was delighted too and why not?

Then, momentarily, the bottom seemed to fall out of his world.

"Oh how rough, how tough is that," he said, clearly shattered, after Maire Kirby had obliterated Kilkenny's hopes of advancing with her late, late goal.

St Brendan's Park is a happy hunting ground for Meath camogie. It was there in 2016 Meath, then under the very astute management of John Davis, defeated Galway (1-10 to 2-3) to secure promotion to the top flight, to the lofty heights of Div 1. Now they are back in Div 2 but for how long?

They remain on course to gain promotion again, but Saturday's performance was far from perfect.

The three goals they scored suggest there was more of a cutting edge in attack this time than in other games, sure, but there was still a lot of ball played into the forwards who were invariably out-numbered when they gained possession.

A notable feature of this Meath team is the level of fitness. It was more than a minor factor in ensuring they were still running, still looking for possession deep into injury-time on Saturday.

That's a credit to themselves as well as strength and conditioning coach Gordon Ward, something that was highlighted by manager Brendan Skehan afterwards.

"The girls are not getting any injuries because of strains, they were doing a lot of conditioning work, a lot of prep work," said Skehan.

"We have gradually upped their physical work and hats off to Gordon he has done a great job with them and their conditioning."

Then there is that resilience or "squeaking bum stuff" as Skehan referred to it. That is the kind of thing that can't be coached into somebody; it has to be already there.

A fierce will to win, or at least a driving ambition to avoid defeat.

Skehan was calling for a chair to sit on on the pitch because the legs had got weak with all the drama at the end. He was only joking, of course, but it would be understandable if he felt a little fragile at the knees in the those frantic final few moments.

One of his mantras is that a team, an individual, make their own luck, in sport and in life.

He has told the team that more than once during his time in charge and the truth of that philosophy was certainly borne out on Saturday.

"We pulled it out of the bag at the end, we probably made our own luck by creating the chance (for the goal) and one of our players being in the right place at the right time.

"We got the free, got the ball into the square, and Maire jabbed it into the net. It's about being in the right place at the right time. It's going until the end." he said.

Skehan is a believer in how work off-the-ball is just as important as work in possession, players running into space, creating problems for the opposition defence.

There is something else he is determined the team should not do - gift opponents like Kilkenny points by conceding needless frees.

The Cats had Sophie O'Dwyer in their ranks; a player well capable of turning frees into scores and she made Meath pay for needless fouls conceded.

"We did say we wouldn't be giving the referee the opportunity to go against us in 50-50 situations.

"We wanted to hurl down, tackle properly, no lazy swings or grabbing the arms stuff like that.

"I think that's one of the things that saved us in the second-half against the breeze, that discipline that was needed.

"If we had broken down the play and then gave them a free ball, Kilkenny are certainly one of those teams that can take advantage."

He described the nature of Saturday's victory and what it will do for morale as "fantastic", and it's hard to disagree with him on that front.

The players were rightfully buzzing after the dramatic victory - not, the manager suggested, that morale needed a boosting.

"They are a good bunch, they do plenty of team bonding activities. We meet on Mondays and mix up the strength and conditioning work with some team activities and having a laugh.

"Last Monday they had a tug-o-war contest, there was a right buzz about the place. It resets us for the week, they are back working again, getting ready for the next test.

"That's all nice to see and it's the girls themselves who are driving this."

The players went out to Bettystown beach to do some training on Bank Holiday Monday.

It was yet another part of their journey so far during which they have really impressed some people - including that Kilkenny commentator.

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