Tyrone ladies delivered perfect display to land All Ireland title, says boss
Tyrone 6-8 Meath 1-14
A glut of first half goals powered Tyrone to victory in the All-Ireland Intermediate final, with captain Neamh Woods slamming home a goal at the start of either half to take home the Mary Quinn Cup.
The Red Hands ladies will now move up to senior football next year and that step is just reward for the huge effort put in by manager Gerry Moane and his backroom team.
"I suppose I am looking now over this last two years at getting that performance. You always strive for it but you don't always get it," said Moane afterwards.
"I suppose if you were going to do it at any stage you might as well do it today. We had something like that last year and didn't grasp the start, but we had it there today and had those first eight or nine minutes.
"You can talk and talk about being clinical, but what a time to do it today!"
Woods' goal in the fourth minute came after Meath opened the scoring with a Niamh O'Sullivan point.
A lovely flowing movement between veteran full forward Gemma Begley who played a give and go with Emma Jane Gervin, put Woods through on goal. She hand passed to Grainne Rafferty on the edge of the square and continued her run in, when she utilised her international netball experience to make a vertical jump and slap the return pass into the net.
Just five minutes later they had the net bulging at the Hill 16 end again. Chloe McCaffrey fastened onto a loose pass and spotted Niamh Hughes coming like a train past her, and the Dungannon girl planted her shot home.
By this stage Tyrone were rampant and Gervin hit the crossbar on 11 minutes before the third Tyrone goal. Begley played a high ball in and Rafferty lurked in behind her marker to collect and although the finish wasn't tidy, they all count.
Meath's cause was not helped by an early injury to their sweeper Aoibhin Cleary, who had to be withdrawn through injury after just 10 minutes. Her replacement Sarah Wall moved in to mark Begley and freed up Megan Thynne to become the new sweeper, a significant tactical change in an already struggling defence.
They managed to narrow the gap to five points and needed to get to half-time with that margin but they were torpedoed entirely when a brilliant run from Hughes took her into the heart of the Meath defence and a Gervin pass put Niamh O'Neill - on as an early substitute for Áine Canavan - through to grab their fourth goal to leave it 4-3 to 0-7 at the break.
In the first minute of the second half, the contest became academic after Joanne Barrett forced a turnover at the back and after another lightning Hughes carry, Woods popped up on her shoulder to take the pass, drive forward and place the shot gently past Meath goalkeeper Monica McGuirk.
"We have quality players," said Moane outside the dressing room as the Tyrone girls started the party with a boombox blasting inside.
"In Tyrone there are quality, quality forwards and there was always going to be some day they were going to deliver on the big stage. It's about encouraging them to express themselves.
"You have to encourage them to kick. There is a lot of talk now about systems and negative football. Ladies' football is not negative. And I am a great believer in positive football.
"Yes, we will take care of our defence, but let's play football. We knew we had footballers on our team so that's what we try to do. If you allow them to go and play football, they will do that for you and that's immensely satisfying."
The final goal came on 47 minutes and fittingly, it fell to Gemma Begley, who first played senior football for Tyrone ladies back in 2004 and has won all sorts of individual accolades, but was left broken-hearted by losses in the 2010 senior final and last year's Intermediate defeat to Tipperary.
The spade work was done by the energetic Emma Mulgrew and Begley was left in space for a confident finish.
This was a remarkably different day than this time 12 months ago when they fell to Tipperary.
"Last year there was a lot of talk about why I put so many young players in at Croke Park. I put in 12 minors over the course of the year to get them experience of this occasion," the Fermanagh man said.
"A lot of those young players started today and delivered on the big stage. A lot of people didn't see that but I saw the bigger picture, bringing the talent you have in and making sure they got proper coaching, nutrition, strength and conditioning.
"Training facilities, food, strength and conditioning, all of that has to be place and then the talent will raise the bar for you."
Now, Tyrone will take a couple of months off, but are keen to continue the conditioning work that their physical conditioning coach Sarah Connolly has implemented, in order to be ready for the strains of the senior game.
The ladies' code has never been healthier and even though last year's finals attendances was the record in Europe and possibly the world for any ladies sports finals, it was smashed yesterday with 50,141 present in Croke Park. Those present watched a seriously physical contest between Dublin and Cork, the Dublin ladies successfully defending their All-Ireland crown.
The work begins now.