Words: Niall Gormley | Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
One of the most famous goals in gaelic football was scored in 1978 when Mike Sheehy of Kerry chipped Dublin goalkeeper Paddy Cullen with a quickly taken free off the ground.
In 2021 the feat was bettered when Meath’s Emma Duggan struck, in glorious 3D out of her hands, from some 35 meters, also in an All-Ireland final and placed the ball a few centimetres under the cross bar.
The clip has been played many times on YouTube and in the original commentary, just before the goal, Emma’s Meath team are referred to as ‘absolute rank outsiders’ in the final against a Dublin side going for five-in-a-row.
The audacity of the lobbed goal was matched only by the audacity of a Meath outfit that was plying it’s trade in the Intermediate championship, emerging to win two senior football All-Irelands back-to-back and propel many of the team to stardom in women’s sport in Ireland.
Emma Duggan’s own emergence into football has paralleled Meath’s over recent years. She comes from a strong football background in Dunboyne and she played underage football with Meath across the various age groups.
But it hasn’t been all wins and glory. The Meath team were beaten by 40 points by a rampant Cork side in 2015 and requested relegation to the intermediate ranks in 2016. The side took on new manager Eamon Murray and his team and began rebuilding.
The were beaten in the Intermediate Championship semi-final in 2017 and in the Intermediate final in 2018. Emma’s first adult All-Ireland final came in 2019 when they were well beaten by Tipperary. She was just 17 years old and yet scored five points in the game.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster of a journey but I think we can look back on those games and say that we weren’t ready for the step-up to senior. It gave us the kick up the backside we needed, because we wanted to take our game to another level,” she recalls.
“We were sick of losing and we needed to find the small margins that would help us get over the line on the big days. So the following year, in 2020, when we were hit by covid and all of us training on our own, we had this motivation and it brought us on as a group. When we got back to team training sessions, we had so much motivation and so much hunger there as well, that when we got to the final I just don’t think we were going to be losers that day”.
So in the short days of December 2020 Emma scored 7 points as Meath defeated rivals Westmeath to win the Intermediate Championship and go back senior.
The Royals now had silverware but more importantly they had self-belief. “We didn’t really care what everyone thought about us, whether we were going to get relegated again. We knew what we had in the dressing room, we knew what we were capable of, and when you have that, nothing else matters.”
The 2021 campaign was the stuff of legend. In the semi-final they met Cork again and with five minutes to go Cork were seven clear and coasting. But what the team learned about fine margins and big games came back, and Meath had a whirlwind last five minutes with Emma scoring the goal that sent the game to extra time and she scored the final point to win the epic contest.
And then came the final, Emma’s audacious goal, a nailbiting finish – and Meath’s Royals had dethroned the Dubs. After that, the 2022 campaign was relatively straightforward finishing with the previous years’ ‘rank outsiders’ comprehensively beating Kerry in the final.
Can they make it three-in-a-row? Eamon Murray has departed and Emma’s teammate and clubmate Vikki Wall has headed for Oz to play Aussie Rules. But Emma is excited by the challenge and she thinks it’s a great opportunity for younger players.
Emma is a student at DCU studying accounting and finance and while there’s been lots of talk of her heading to Australia too, she intends to finish her degree before she gives it serious consideration. She’s also an ambassador for the GAA Cúl Camps and she’s more than happy to be a role model in sport for girls and young women.