Meath lady footballers living the dream
By Michael Devlin
Eamonn Murray never envisioned himself as Meath senior ladies manager.
“I never wanted it really, never thought of it. I love underage and love development, and my job was to feed the senior team I always thought,” Murray told GAA.ie. The Boardsmill clubman had been a manager at underage levels up until his appointment to the senior role last Easter.
“The chairman rang me up about ten times, and I said I’d do it if I get the right people in with me. So first man I rang was Paul Garrigan, a top man, and he brought Paddy Dowling with him, and I brought Michelle Grimes with me. A good team, and we’ve never had a bad word.”
And so after 24 years involved in Meath ladies football, Murray will lead the Royals into their first All-Ireland Intermediate final against Tyrone at Croke Park this Sunday, and he wants his players to revel in the new experience.
“The build-up and the fundraisers and things, it’s all new to us. We had an open night last Friday and about 400 kids came in, it was brilliant to watch. For 24 years we’ve been bringing busloads here for days out, this time it’s not going to be a day out. This is it, a dream.
“We came here last week and walked around the pitch, but you never know how they’re going to react to it. If you don’t, this place can choke you, it can destroy you. You can wake up Tuesday morning and think, ‘what’s after happening here?’
“Take it all in, learn it all, is what I’ve been telling them. They’re in good shape, they’re a good fit team. I know they’re a bit light but they just love pure, open football, and this is the place to play it. They should love this place.”
Despite defeat to Wexford in the Division Three Final, Meath’s 2018 league campaign was largely a positive one, however their Championship journey began with a loss to Wicklow in Leinster. They notched a huge 11-24 against Fermanagh in the opening game of the All-Ireland group series, but fell to a 2-9 to 0-9 defeat to Connacht champions Roscommon in Kinnegad.
A tight win over Clare put the Royals into a final four showdown against Roscommon again, who had also defeated them in the league. This time they avenged defeats from earlier in the year, with Stacey Grimes scoring 1-7 as they ran out comfortable winners 3-18 to 2-5.
“Both times they turned us over, we made some awful mistakes and we had an awful lot of wides, the stats proved it but we knew in our own heads that we were a way better team than them,” said Murray. “In the semi we got stuck into them early on and everything went right for us. The defence was unreal.
“It was a proud day heading home that day. I didn’t think we’d reach the final this year, but we’ll take it and give it a good shot.”
Last year Meath lost out to eventual intermediate champions Tipperary in the semi-final, who would go on to beat this Sunday’s opponents Tyrone in the final. The Royals’ performance that day in the narrow 3-19 to 2-19 defeat was a positive for Murray, and it made the preparation for this season all the easier.
“Last year we got to the semi-final and I was very happy with the way it ended, we could have been annihilated that day but we didn’t, we only lost by three points. It was very easy to start training again a few weeks after that in early November, they all came back. If we had got a hammering that day, a lot could have walked away.”
Murray believes his experience of coaching the current squad from a young age has been a “huge advantage” to him, and it’s that knowledge of the players that has allowed him to form a strong bond with the panel.
“It helps a lot, and they trust me. It’s a huge advantage for me, I’m an obsessive and I need to know a lot about the girls. I want to know their parents’ names, how they prepare for the bid day, how they react to different things. I know that now and it helps a lot. They’re a brilliant bunch. They smile at training, and they never miss a session, even in the snow and the worst weather, and they were laughing. That’s what you want.”