Meath 1-12 Wexford 3-10
Let's start with a few broad brush strokes, a bit of housekeeping to be sorted. Had Meath any quibbles, carps? Could they feel churlish at the final whistle? Quibbles? One or two perhaps. A blatant tug of a jersey and push on Fiona O'Neills jersey around the 40th minute should have led to a free in at a vital juncture, instead to everyone's surprise, a free out was awarded. Meath could legitimately carp about the clock. A long break in play near the death saw the clock run and whirr. The Meath crowd bellowed, the clock ticked on. Should Meath be churlish? No. This Wexford team were worthy of their win.
Disappointed then? Damn sure, and throw in heartbreak and tears for weight. You don't slog through the coldest, wettest, longest winter in decades, you don't play seven league matches, one playable because volunteers including manager, players and mentors cleared the Dunganny snow, without losing part of your self. You don't travel to training twice and three times a week, sacrifice a social life, win an eighth match semi-final v Down to qualify and try and escape Division 3, without leaving part of your soul on the Birr sod.
How then should we deal with this match in descriptive terms? Let's go for a few metaphors. Let's pretend we are talking about two well matched boxers. Both have met earlier in the ring, perhaps a bit of shadow boxing, a few shapes thrown but no hostages to fortune given by either side. The ring in Birr would see winner take all in this bout. The prize apart from the tin cup, was a trip up the divisional ratings. The problem was that the departing bus had room for one boxer, one team would take all.
In the Royal corner they were happy. Built into any management setup is the awareness that you can lose a starting certainty. Orlagh Lally has had a fine league campaign at 3 until the hammer acted up. She was out. So too was Vikki Wall and as the match was to progress Walls loss was to play its part! Meath were confident though, this squad is built for this type of stuff. Jerseys are won on merit, not on lottery. Wexford similarly, looked unfazed. They had been in this ring v Tipperary a year earlier. They knew what had to be done.
Shadow boxers from both sides prodded away. The Royal looked good in the earlier exchanges. As happens, those bouts swing one way, then the other. Wexford pressed the peddle. I know, I've switched from boxing but indulge me! Meath defended tightly and forced the Models to go back and over the pitch before turning them over. Any lingering doubts that one or other of those outfits was going to hose the other, was consigned to the dustbin. This was a dogfight. A pattern though was emerging. Caitriona Murray Wexford's 15 was on fire, a dangerous blaze that would need tending. She clipped a few confident points but Kate Byrne kicked a fine point from mid to settle Royal nerves and Niamhy G sallied forth and drilled a statement point. The Models early scores were now reeled in. A tricky wind was deceptive to those in the stand but Stacey Grimes on the green carpet will attest to its tricks.
Wexford knew Meath were in Birr for business and vice versa. Then came Meath's first standing count. A ball landed awkwardly in the square, broke behind the back three and was swept in by Murray. The Model has opened a cut over the Royal right eye. Quick stitching would be needed. Meath didn't panic, they stick to the plan but Murray added another jab before half time blew with a point. Sitting near the Royal ringside I saw the managerial team exuded calm, the bench likewise. Two points separated the contestants. Thirty second half minutes and the benefit of a moody wind (it couldn't make up its mind whether to blow down or across the pitch, so often, it simply whirled) should assist Meath on the green canvas.
Wexford though took the initiative. Butler strode forward from half back and landed a point. Mairead Farrelly threw over a superb point reminded the Models that the Royals has a sting in their gloves too. It was tit for tat now. But, and it's a big but. Meath weren't getting in behind the Wexford last line. It was ferocious stuff but the Models were holding firm. Vikki Wall entered the battle. That changed the dynamic. Now Meath could try a little Plan B sledgehammer stuff. Wall worked the gaps between half forward and full forward but suffers the Aiden O Shea syndrome. Being a big player elicits little sympathy from the officials, you can hang out of them as if their size allows that.
Then came standing count number two. That woman Murray stitched another glove into the Meath net. The excellent Monica McGuirk couldn't do a thing about it. Sometimes it's simply fated, written in the stars. Then came a life line. Meath now had Lally and Emma White on the pitch. A Wall burst, no pun intended, brought a penalty and Stacey Grimes slotted a chiller. Time to save the day. The sideline was on fire, the bench on their feet but Murray decided that she wanted Christmas in May, soloed forward to give the Royals the third and fatal standing count. It wasn't to be their day. An injury and break in play saw the clock run on. Every second counts. Today, time wasn't Meath friend.
Today the better team won. I don't think the Royalettes would deny that. That initial gut churning feeling you get when you hear the "The cheers for the gallant losers" coupled with the winners hymn of "Championes Championes" feels like a new stick of chalk drawn down a shiny blackboard. Those Royal women lost a match today, narrowly. Yesterday I watched Tipperary, last years Div 3 winners go up another rung on the ladder. Wexford stood defeated a year ago to Tipp. They had two choices, sink or suck it up and return. They did the latter. So will Meath. The county board have the systems in place, the management team is top class. The girls are going one way only and that's up. Today was a bump on the road, a punch on the snot. They are bloodied but unbowed.
Picking out individuals can be fraught and viewer specific. Each girl gave 100% of themselves. Each left it all on the pitch. Niamh O'Sullivan not just today but all though the campaign, led her team by example. Her combination with Fiona O'Neill, gives experience to an extremely young team that will come on in leaps and bounds regardless of today's loss. Kate Byrne and Máire O'Shaughnessy wore their courage on their sleeves. Megan Thynne, Orlagh Lally, Stacey Grimes, Aoibhin Cleary and Katie Newe will have another layer of galvanize on their CVs tonight. Sarah Powderly represents the honest defenders like a Peel, Ennis and Troy, teak tough Royalettes. The bench contains serious talent like Niamh Lister, Laura Dempsey and Katie Bellew amongst others. I have no doubt that the hard ground ahead will see them chomping at the bit. This is not an end, merely a break before the next onslaught. Maith sibh uilig a chaliní, tà muid bròdùil as sibh.
Meath scorers: S. Grimes 1-3, N. Gallogly &V Wall 0-2, K Byrne, A. Cleary, M. Farrelly, N. O'Sullivan, F. O'Neill 0-1 each.
Wexford scorers: C. Murray 3-5, N. Butler, B. Breen, C. Donnelly, F. Rochford, C. Foxe 0-1 each.
Meath: Monica McGuirk, Katie Newe, Michelle Peel, Sarah Powderly, Emma Troy, Shauna Ennis, Niamh Gallogly, Máire O'Shaughnessy, Kate Byrne, Megan Thynne, Aoibhin Cleary, Marion Farrelly, Niamh O'Sullivan, Stacey Grimes, Fiona O Neill. Subs: Vikki Wall for M O'Shaughnessy, Orlaith Lally for M Peel, Emma White for K Byrne.
Wexford: M R Kelly, S. Murphy, M. Byrne, S. Harding- Kenny, N. Moore, N Mernagh, N. Butler, R. Murphy, B. Breen, C. Donnelly, F. Rochford, K. Kearney: C. Foxe, A. Murphy, C. Murray. Subs. E. O'Brien, R. Bennett.
Referee: Maggie Farrelly - Cavan.