ALL-IRELAND SFC FINAL REVIEW Royals do it in style
As a friend was walking to Croke Park along the banks of the Royal Canal on Sunday he was accosted by a group of local youths who were dive bombing into the water with the greeting “f**k Meath”.
Although the irony that the youngster despised Meath but had no problem diving in a canal named after the Royal County was lost on him, one positive can be gleaned from the interaction: it’s good to be hated again. It means that you’re doing something right.
For much of his young life, Dublin had held a monopoly on both men’s and women’s football until both reigns came to shuddering halts in 2021, so you couldn’t blame him for being a bit embittered towards the sight of a green and gold jersey, although if he abused everyone he saw his voice wouldn’t have lasted long.
Given the backlog in events caused by the pandemic, this year is all about making up for lost time, as proved by the fact I had several weddings in the last week. Although they took me on the road from Cork to Castleknock then on to Dunderry and finally Dundalk, with my sister and a close friend (respectfully) tying the knot, this weekend was earmarked, long in advance for one event and one event only: The All Ireland Ladies Final, and judging by the crowd I wasn’t the only one who employed that line of thinking.
Having been almost surprised with victory in 2021 the Meath GAA public found they were ravenous for success this year, as hope gave way to expectation in 2022.
Of the six teams on show in Croke Park on the day, the royal roar was the loudest, with what felt like three-quarters of the 46,000-odd of those in attendance passionately roaring Eamonn Murray’s side home, with reports that bus companies the length and breadth of the country having to pile passengers into the luggage bays to get people to Dublin on time.
Clonliffe Road was awash with green and gold an hour before throw-in.
Given both teams traditionally wear these colours this is hardly a surprise. But the advertising managers in both Kepak and Devenish will be far happier than their counterparts in the Kerry Group (the fact that all three are agricultural companies means that the old saying rings true “where there’s muck there’s money), as their logos were emblazoned on far more jerseys.
Inside the stadium, any pregame optimism was temporarily replaced by palpable nerves in the build-up, which in turn gave way to panic as Kerry exploded out of the blocks with a rapid-fire 1-2. But as sure as night follows day Meath slowly assumed control via the ever reliable Emmas' - Troy and Duggan - with no little help from Vikki Wall, Niamh O’Sullivan and co to send the Royal Roar into overdrive and to ensure that the Brendan Martin Cup will spend another winter by the banks of the Boyne.
At the post-match reception in Trim, which Shauna Ennis dutifully plugged with a “see you all in Knightsbrook” shout-out in her post-game acceptance, speech the hordes began to build shortly after the game in feverish excitement.
It was a night of celebrations all around at the venue as it played host to not one but two weddings. While no bride likes to be upstaged on her big day there was little doubting who the masses were congregating to see; hint they weren’t wearing white, but had two large handles like ears and were adorned by green and gold ribbons and would be filled with vodka and coke several times throughout the night.
With the team bus scheduled to arrive at 9pm the building anticipation only increased when news filtered through the wire that it had been hijacked in Batterstown by RTE and Marty Morrissey for a slot on the Nine O’clock news. By this stage, the crowd was comparable to the one that greeted Pope John Paul 2 in Phoenix Park, but instead of praying priests, there were kids doing cartwheels.
Finally, shortly before 10 o’clock, the bus arrived and the dam holding the celebrations back broke. As the ladies made their way from the coach to the sanctuary of the hotel they were mobbed, as the masses tried to get a clear view of their heroes.
When the dust finally settled and everyone regained their composure, there was only one thing spoken about. It’s good to do it once, but to go back to back takes something special.