O'Sullivan says Meath ladies are determined not to be 'one-hit wonders'
By John Harrington
Four months have passed since Meath’s remarkable victory over Dublin in the 2021 TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Senior Championship Final, and Niamh O’Sullivan is still struggling to come to terms with it all.
She was one of the Royal County’s stars on the day, scoring three points from play as they won their first ever senior All-Ireland.
When interviewed in the immediate aftermath of the win she said she felt like she was in a dream, and not much has changed since then.
“I still think it’s a dream,” said O’Sullivan. “Over Christmas TG4 played the game and a lot of us watched it. You’re still jumping after every ball. I felt like I was reliving it again. It was a dream to play in Croke Park. And the icing on the cake when you come out on top with an All-Ireland medal.
“Did we expect it? No, we never did. Confidence only grew throughout the season, after the Armagh game, that we could go on and win it.
“No-one gave us a chance, but, look, that didn’t affect us at all.
It’s fantastic. It still doesn’t feel real. Maybe when I get the medal in my hand it will feel real. We only got the Brendan Martin Cup there two or three weeks after the final so we didn’t have it that night. When we got the Cup it felt that bit more real.”
Now that they finally have their hands on it, they’re in no rush to hand it back.
Meath’s 2021 All-Ireland Final that stopped Dublin’s bid for a fifth title in succession was commonly regarded as an almighty shock, but O’Sullivan and her team-mates are now very determined to prove it was in no way a fluke.
“We don’t want to be known as the one hit wonder,” she says. “We’re back training since November. We’ve got a few new girls to drive us on and we’re focusing on our first league game against Cork. We know they’ve a sour taste in their mouth after the All-Ireland semi-final. We know they’re going to be out to get us.
“Home game for us. Looking forward to it. A big challenge for us. Playing Division One football, you want to be playing against Cork, Dublin, Galway, Mayo, Waterford. Our aim will be to stay in Division One.
“Everyone will be out to get us but look, we’ll focus on ourselves.”
O’Sullivan believes there’s a narrative out there that Meath got a little bit lucky last year. That they were such underdogs going into the Final they profited from Dublin complacency.
So even though they’re the most deserving of All-Ireland champions, it’s easy for these Meath footballers to feel like they still have a point to prove.
“Yeah, we've got loads of praise for what we did and that's fair enough, but I still think people think in the back of their minds that we came under the radar and caught Dublin on the hop, I don't know.
“I think for us to prove people wrong we have to perform this year. We have to step it up another notch.
“People were saying we were fit last year but we have to get fitter. Everyone is going to know our tactics so we have to come back with new tactics.
“We have to improve our game just as much again. We definitely want to go out there and try to prove people wrong, that's for sure.”
Sourcing motivation from feeling like an underdog is something this Meath team has done particularly well for the past couple of years and they’ll return to that well in 2022.
“It kind of all ties back to our coach Paul (Garrigan). When he came in in 2017 he gave us a rock. He was saying that no one gives us respect so we have to chip away at this rock if we want to do things.
“And in the 2019 final he gave us a stone, we had chipped at the rock and got it down to a stone and recently he gave us a pebble showing us that if we chip at the pebble special things can happen.
“We had a training weekend leading up to the All-Ireland final and we had a quiz and there was a picture round with all these sports stars on it and they were actually all underdog stories so we did thrive on that and we didn’t focus on anyone else only ourselves.
“People were giving us no chance coming in against Dublin. They were going for five in arow and it was to be expected.
“But it didn’t faze us, we went out and played our own game and yeah we did use the underdog tag and we will probably try and still use it when we are not really the underdogs but it does stem a lot from our coaching staff and their motivation cues and they helped us for sure.”