By Tom Clancy
Derry claimed the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland crown, thanks to a superb team display in Clones, which saw off Meath in the replayed final on a 1-17 to 1-9 scoreline. After last week’s drama at Croke Park, the Oak Leaf County were deserving winners, as a fine spread of scorers as well as a dominant rearguard helped them back to the senior ranks.
“It was a great team performance. When you put together good team performances you get your just rewards. Everybody was talking about what Meath did last Sunday but didn’t give us enough credit – it hurt a lot of our players”, explained Derry boss, PJ O’Mullan.
“We got back in on Monday night and looked at it. It wasn’t what Meath were doing right, it was what we were doing wrong. The players were wonderful from start to finish.
“Today, we decided if they got a purple patch that we had to react. So they got 1-1 to get back to a point and we replied with 1-2. Our big players stood up, the decision making was better – we scored 1-17, and I think if you played like we did, you deserve to win an All-Ireland.”
After the tension of the draw at Croke Park, O’Mullan and his wife, Ciara, were heading for their family holiday, but not before a lengthy day of analysis and preparation last Monday.
“We were together for five and a half hours last Monday. We felt when we looked at everything, we couldn’t be as bad again. We decided that if Meath wanted to win an All-Ireland they had to beat the real Derry. If the real Derry turned up, we knew Meath would have to be exceptional. We hadn’t beaten Meath in a couple of years, today we decided no matter what happened we were going push on”.
Wing-back Lauren McKenna, who scooped the Player of the Match award was still trying to take it all in.
“It’s kind of surreal to be honest,” said McKenna. “It is beyond my expectation, even just to win it but to get Player of the Match, there are so many girls out there who could have got it. Even for the younger generation coming through, it’s unbelievable for them to see this, something for them to look forward to in future.”
Overwhelmed by the supporters, who were heard virtually non-stop throughout this clash, McKenna was also quick to acknowledge the panel effort.
“I know our panel has been quite small, a few girls dropped out, a few girls came in during the year. But credit to every single one of them, there is 25 girls there putting all of our effort in but we do have to build on it next year. We’re in with the seniors now, we have to build on what we already have, and get more people in if we can. Hopefully seeing that there today will help get them out for us.”
The Ballinascreen star explained the difference in dressing room dynamic at St Tiernach’s Park, compared to Croke Park.
“I feel in the changing room, there was a different vibe this week. Last week we were very calm in the changing room but this week we were all going around, patting each other on the back (at half-time). We had the lead and said, ‘We are not throwing this away this time.’ PJ got us going and we went from there.”
With the team manager flying back for the game, there appeared to be added motivation for the Derry girls.
“PJ and Ciara are a bit unlucky at the minute, but it worked out in the end, we did it for them,” McKenna declared.
“We are (a unified group). I feel there was a stage in the middle of the year, we had a team bonding day and I don’t know what it was, every single one of us just gelled. I have played a couple of seasons, or half years, but it never felt like a club team. We were doing it for every single girl on that team, we knew the girl beside us was going to work just as hard – it is just like a club team which is what you want at county level.
“Every time we meet Meath, it is never easy. We are teams of similar skill; physicality and it was always going to be a good battle. Fair play to Meath, they’ll be back next year, stronger than ever.”