As humans there’s something in us that is hardwired to revel in the story of an underdog, a longshot, outsiders pushing on for the victory despite whatever obstacles are put in their path.
Eamonn Murray’s Meath epitomised this when they rose through the ranks and overcame three of last year’s semifinalists en-route to lift their inaugural Brendan Martin cup.
All labeled David and Goliath style triumphs they tossed sharp shooters Armagh to the side in the quarters, brought 11-time winners Cork down to the wire only to pull a result out of the bag and tore up the script on Sunday to halt Dublin’s drive for five successive All Ireland titles and deal them their first defeat since 2016. All with flair might I add.
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What may have been partially overlooked however was that they achieved what they did solely on merit, not on the wizardry of a fairytale many of us got caught up in.
These Royal County All Ireland champions serve as a metaphor for women’s sport as an entity; getting to where they did via their own efforts and competence rather than the justification of those onlooking, regardless of that darkhorse prerequisite that accompanied their battle and not the favourites one seen with the Dubs.
That same rationale often escorts games played by females worldwide as a descriptor (heck I just did it a few lines up), but it’s notable absence in the corresponding men’s code (or the formidable Girls in Blue if you like in this case) means the prefix acts as a weight in hindering people’s perception of sport just as sport and not the gender that comes before it.
To be fair, you wouldn’t hear of next Saturday’s game characterized as the Mayo Men’s team versus the Tyrone men, it would just be the Mayo versus Tyrone All Ireland final.
“That underdog tag – we loved it” @meathladiesMLGF Vikki Wall on the inner-belief the side had going into the All-Ireland final 🟢🟡
“There were a few things last week – the word ‘lucky’ being thrown out definitely didn’t sit well with me” pic.twitter.com/otndtP1NsN
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) September 6, 2021
Mainstream media’s appreciation of Emma Duggan, Vikki Wall, Stacey Grimes, Shauna Ennis and co saw a notable increase after they had accomplished the spectacular, and while the zero to hero rhetoric very much drew the masses in, what’s more important is whether they are here to stay.
The weekend’s exceptional showcase of football can only aid that mindset, but what would boost it beyond doubt would be the continued support in coverage, but also attendance during such displays.
Before the pandemic, the LGFA witnessed a record high of 56, 114 at the 2019 Finals Day in Croke Park. While the main event fixture itself has since been pointed out as unpalatable in its’ low scoring and defensive nature, the crowd that it attracted set the bar in terms of the way in which the game was going with spectators. UP.
Covid-19 then hit, reducing 2020 numbers to zilch in accordance with the guidelines in December of last year. Pod sizes of two and age restrictions on the 2021 finals put such a tally out of reach this time around too, but what was apparent was the edge closer to parity in those sitting in on the occasion.
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The Royal rumble also saw a growth of 50,000 TV viewers on last year’s Dublin and Cork Christmas clash, with 226,600 people tuning in on TG4 for the Senior match and 600,000 cumulatively watching over the course of the day between the three outings.
Two years time marks the 50th anniversary of the organisation’s first official All-Ireland final in 1974, a celebration which surely would have had aspirations of full capacity pre the era of lockdowns and face masks given the trajectory of numbers up until that point.
2021’s finale audience having gone unreported; it is unknown the exact amount they have to build from, but with the cap set at 40,000 due to Covid event constraints the figure has yet to double if we are to attain that goal.
Much like Meath, many a setback has to be faced before ultimate glory is realised, but hey, we all root for the underdog.
227k watched the Senior Final between @meathladiesMLGF and @dublinladiesg yesterday on TG4
Thats a 50k increase on the replica 2020 fixture 🎅
876k tuned into last year’s Men’s Senior final
The building blocks are brilliant to see but don’t forget we still have a ways to go🤩 pic.twitter.com/wDufq9rgdq
— Alanna Cunnane (@acunnane10) September 6, 2021