Nadine Doherty: Meath’s remarkable journey can come full circle but Kingdom ooze natural footballing ability in every position
How many times have we heard about teams going to the well? It’s a commonly used phrase these days by GAA managers describing their teams’ resilience. And it’s one that really grates on me.
Credit to them, they just went to the well yet again’ or ‘I don’t know how they do it, they just go back to the well every time.’
Hearing the words ‘the well’ in a post-match interview sets me off, with an overly dramatic eye roll and an urge to throw something at the television.
It always seems to be the successful teams who can access these mysterious wells, giving them the strength to be even more successful it seems.
Their players get the credit for their journeys there (and back of course).
For a long time they seemed to be operating exclusively within a few select GAA circles and for other teams to acquire such a well could be comparable to middle income renters trying to buy a house in Dublin post pandemic.
It’s a lot easier to go to a well that already has a level of success, going to pre-season in the full knowledge that your chances of winning a championship are very high.
In contrast, the wells in other counties that never get mentioned are empty at the start of every season, and are at critical levels because there has been a drought in terms of success.
The teams who keep going back to these less salubrious watering holes for another year in the hope their fortunes change deserve as much credit as the successful teams who have to dip into the well for the second half of a few games each season.
The most resilient players in my mind are the ones who return to a set-up, knowing the commitment necessary to represent their county, without a glimmer of hope of success outside their own inner circle, .
Meath and Kerry will meet for the first time in an All-Ireland senior final today. They are two teams who have come from an empty well in recent years.
The last time the pair met in Croke Park was in the Division 2 league final last year, and that match could arguably be identified as the catalyst for Meath’s unlikely All-Ireland win.
Kerry went into the game as overwhelming favourites. Meath had just made the step up from intermediate and from Division 3 in 2019.
Kerry had earlier beaten them 3-10 to 1-10 and based on that performance, along with them being the more established senior team, it was a fair assumption that they would finally get back to Division 1 following their 2018 relegation.
As they would continue to do for the remainder of the 2021 season, Meath tore up the script and demolished Kerry by 10 points.
They did the same against Tipperary, and unexpectedly defeated Armagh, Cork and Dublin to win their first senior championship last September.
Since they last contested an All-Ireland final in 2012, Kerry have had a difficult spell at senior level by their own standards and expectations, and until this year have been very much underachieving.
Many big names had departed, All Stars who would have been tipped to deliver at least one All-Ireland during their careers.
Management teams promised much and delivered little and there was relegation to Division 2, followed by stagnation for many years.
However, in that time their underage teams have delivered promise and success.
Between 2010 and 2018 they reached five All-Ireland under 16 finals, winning three; competed in three under 14 finals and won one, in 2014.
Kerry captain Anna Galvin, Erica McGlynn, Ciara McCarthy, Niamh Ní Chonchúir along with other current panel members are products of those teams, so they have been successfully and quietly building towards an All-Ireland for over 10 years.
For the second year in a row, the final pairing seems most improbable. By making the final in 2021, Meath defied all expectations, and this year Kerry have done the same.
At the beginning of 2022 they weren’t mentioned in any conversation on the topic of potential All-Ireland finalists.
Having won Division 2 in an impressive manner in April, defeating a fancied Armagh team, they then suffered a disappointing five-point Munster final defeat to Cork.
Kerry are the team I most look forward to watching and get the most enjoyment from their style of play.
They are very much cut from the same cloth as their male counterparts and have also remained true to their tradition and how they feel the game should be played. They ooze natural footballing ability in every position.
Kaylee Cronin at full-back along with Emma Costello at centre-back could easily fill the centre and full-forward roles, such is their calmness and skill on the ball.
Aishling O’Connell launches attacks from half-back, but is equally adept in her defensive duties.
While across the midfield they have a dynamic athleticism and physicality in the form of Anna Galvin, Lorraine Scanlon and Cáit Lynch, who dominate kick-outs and link play in a manner that looks almost effortless at times.
Their main strength lies in their attack; not only its scoring ability but also its traditional style of defending inside the opposition 45.
They adopt a high press on opposition kick-outs and when not in possession defence starts from the front.
They hunt in packs and keep their shape, I would be very surprised if they change their tactics and play 14 behind the ball like Meath will.
Not only do their forwards excel in defensive duties, they are fairly handy at taking scores too, amassing a phenomenal 13-49 so far in the championship.
However, they do have weaknesses that Meath will exploit. They score goals for fun, but they also ship points at the other end, and that is not fun.
They have conceded 5-48, and over the last two weeks will have focussed on the fact that Meath have only scored two goals in the championship so far, and seek to improve on the organisation of their defensive structure around the D and hope to keep Meath to their average of 12 points a game.
Meath in comparison have only conceded 2-28 and that blanket defence of 14 behind the ball will be their foundation today.
It is organised, disciplined and capable of winning more free kicks than they concede by forcing over-carries and taking the charge. Stacey Grimes has been incredible all year, both from play and in her free-taking duties.
There has been huge pressure put on her shoulders in games where Meath really struggled from play and each and every time she has delivered.
She is often forgotten due to the brilliance of Emma Duggan and Vikki Wall, but without her and Monica McGuirk this year Meath would not be where they are.
It is very difficult to find any weakness in this team, but if Meath have an Achilles heel of sorts it may be in the form of a lack of depth within the squad.
They lack substitutes who will make an impact, evident by when they make their changes and their predictability. They have made 10 changes in their last three championship games, half of which were with less than five minutes to go.
This could be a tactic to break the opposition’s momentum and let the clock tick down by a few seconds, or perhaps they are players who make an impact by seeing the game out.
All the substitutions made, bar one, were in the midfield and forward areas, perhaps further reinforcing their approach to adopt a system with huge numbers in defence if the personnel required to make changes isn’t available.
Meath are deserving of huge credit for the determination they have shown in this year’s competition.
While they have only really played in patches during games and reached their high standards on a few occasions, they have been economical in everything they do. In every game, the bigger the challenge posed the greater the response has been.
Kerry’s semi-final against Mayo won’t do them any favours. The game was over as a contest by half-time, and had taken on the pace of a challenge match.
Kerry didn’t score after the 43rd minute, while in contrast, Meath won another duel to the death against Donegal, just as they had the week before against Galway.
Many experts will no doubt attribute both successes to their ability to visit the good old well of champions.
Meath have been drawing from both wells over the last three seasons and only they know which journey is the most difficult, but judging by their season so far they have found the well of champions a more difficult proposition than imagined.
They don’t consider themselves lucky to be here in 2022, there has been a resounding message indicating that they feel they deserve to be here and that they will prove it to anyone who doubts them.
The only doubts they have to battle are their own and perhaps looking back to how their journey started against Kerry in the league final 12 months ago will help them get back to that place where there was no pressure to go to a well of any description.
That’s the Meath I would love to see and if we do, they will almost certainly become back-to-back champions.
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