A sensational save by Monica McGuirk was crucial in Meath’s victory against Dublin in the Ladies All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park on Sunday. Photo: John Quirke / www.quirke.ie

Ladies lift Royal County spirits

Even in the media room - deep inside the Hogan Stand - it was possible to hear the shouts of the joyful Meath supporters after last Sunday's All-Ireland Ladies SFC final.

Some of the players, presumably, were still out and about, meeting and greeting the fans, enjoying the moment - and not even layers of concrete could muffle the shouts of joy generated by the fans.

Soon after the hooter sounded to end Sunday's enthralling contest the players ran over to their supporters on the Cusack Stand.

They then ran back, full tilt, to the Hogan Stand to meet more fans there.

After that it was yet another high-tempo sprint down to Hill 16, where another band of supporters awaited, the green and gold flags proudly flying.

That's one of the endearing features of this Meath team.

They are close to the people who support them; to their community.

They are truly representative of the people - and on Sunday they stirred a deep sense of pride in Meath folk at what they had achieved - and not only those involved in the GAA.

So when manager Eamonn Murray and player Niamh O'Sullivan walked into the media room those shouts, however muffled, could be heard.

It had been quite a day up to then for both Murray and O'Sullivan. They, Meath, had achieved what many thought impossible. At one stage during the week the bookies had put Dublin at 1/10 to win. Unbeatable.

"Everbody was talking about the bad days the Meath teams had endured, those bad days are gone, let's move on and start enjoying football, it's nothing more than Meath deserve," said the manager.

"We are a very proud county, 7,500 members, very few other counties with that. This is great for all those kids who look up to people like Niamh here as heroes.

"These are all heroes and will be for life, if they never kick another ball it doesn't matter, they'll never be forgotten, never, they will go down in history, thank God."

Murray spoke about how he was quite happy coaching at under-age level.

He never had ambitions to take on the senior role.

The position needed to be filled so he went for it. He wanted to start afresh, with a blank slate and in 2017 he started out on what has turned out to be an extraordinary journey.

Murray talked about how the team had - he knows it's a cliche - but had taken it one game at a time. He talked about how his team had upped their physical strength this year as was required to match a side like Dublin.

He spoke of how the team moved the ball very well and never showed any sign of panicking.

How before the game there was a sense of calm among the players. No panic.

"They are a very special bunch of players we're dealing with here and I wouldn't expect anything different off them. This is as high as it goes and where we go from here I don't know," he added.

He referenced Monica McGuirk's brilliant first-half save and how they had luck too.

"Of course we had a bit of luck, any team that wins, gets luck, but it's not all luck when you beat all these top teams."

He talked of the great work of the midfielders Maire O'Shaughnessy and Orlagh Lally.

How O'Shaughnessy is the finest midfielder in the country, understated, underrated.

She was, he added, among the best produced by Meath ever, right up there with the likes of John McDermott.

The luck the Meath manager talked about arrived in various forms - Dublin hit the upright with late on and missed with two shots at the posts- but Murray also added how the day was dry. That was a big help.

"We're not a team who likes playing in wet conditions."

Yet he was a little worried before the game. Just a little. The routine was the same, meet up, get on the bus and head to Croker, but because it was All-Ireland final day it meant it was a little different.

"We got a great reception in Trim before we left and all the way up there were flags flying, I thought it might affect them a wee but but no.

"In the dressingroom before the game they were very calm, no-one shouting or roaring, a very focused bunch.

"We told the girls to stay in the game, stay in the game, we treated each 15 minutes as a full match and worried about the second 15 after that and they did exactly that."

O'Sullivan spoke about how the team focused only on themselves; on getting their game right. She pointed to the tremendous support Meath supporters provided - how they were a '16th woman.'

"The crowd was just amazing, they really got behind us at crucial times of the game," said O'Sullivan.

"Dublin nearly got a goal but we won the ball and that absolute roar, it lifted us, and towards the end when Dublin got within two points the crowd really got behind us.

"It is nice to see the green and gold filling Croke Park again, it's just incredible."

Manager Murray was a pains to thank the backroom team, the coaches, physios and others besides.

People such as Paul Garrigan, Michelle Grimes, Hayley Clarke, Aodhan McEntee, Paddy Dowling, Mark Brennan, Eugene Eivers, Shane Wall and Sarah Wall.

Many people had contributed to a wonderful, inspiring journey, his was just a small part, he added modestly.

The Meath supporters who were in Croke Park on Sunday to see the team complete the journey will remember the day for a long time to come.

The day when the Royal County footballers brought the big prize back to the people - their people.