Here’s a bold claim that can never be empirically proven but which we feel would almost certainly prove true – if Cork had reached last year’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies’ SFC final, Meath would not now be All-Ireland champions.

Similarly, but unrelatedly, if Mayo had won any of the ten men’s finals in which they appeared from 1996-2021 inclusive, we feel safe in saying that it would not have been an isolated victory.

Similarly, if Limerick hadn’t held off Galway’s late fightback in the 2018 hurling final, they may not have won the championships of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Last Sunday in Croke Park, Meath had nine points to spare on Kerry as they retained the Brendan Martin Cup with a confident and controlled performance.

While the challengers – aiming for a first title since 1993 – had a dream start with an unanswered 1-2 inside eight minutes, Meath didn’t panic at all and would end up outscoring their opponents by 3-10 to 0-5 for the remainder of proceedings.

Would they have done that if they didn’t have the confidence and belief that last year provided? Possibly not, though of course that 2021 victory owed much to the never-say-die attitude within Eamonn Murray’s squad.

Emma Duggan of Meath in action against Kerry players, from left, Emma Costello, Cáit Lynch and Niamh Carmody during the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Meath at Croke Park in Dublin. \ Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Winners of the All-Ireland intermediate title in 2020, most observers would have considered them in bonus territory when they reached the semi-final stage, with the expectation that the ‘new firm’ of Dublin and Cork – winners of every All-Ireland since 2005 – would battle it out for honours again.

When Meath trailed by seven points as that semi-final wound down, it looked as if the pre-match expectations were correct, but two goals helped to force the game to extra time, where they eased clear of Cork before then seeing off a five-in-a-row-chasing Dublin to book themselves a place in the final.

This year, they didn’t play outstandingly well in every game, but the glow of champions works both ways – it convinces you that you can dig out a result when needed and it also intimidates the opposition to an extent.

In the Sir Alex Ferguson era, Manchester United often scored late winning or equalising goals – it was because they believed they could but, equally, because the other team feared it happening.

Another contender

So, from a position just over a year ago where it looked as if we were still in the midst of a duopoly, there is now another big player – and it was notable that neither Cork nor Dublin made this year’s semi-finals.

Others sense an opening – much like in the men’s game, where Dublin’s slight dip from near-perfection has increased the democratisation again – though the previous dominators will of course look to bounce back strongly.

Meath may not reign supreme in perpetuity – Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally will soon move to Australia to play in the AFLW while Emma Troy is set to go travelling – but they have done the hard part in getting the big wheel turning. It’s a lot easier to keep it going.

Also, there were 46,440 present in Croke Park on Sunday. With that and a capacity crowd at Wembley for the final of Euro 2022 as England beat Germany, it was certainly a good day in terms of showcasing women’s sport.

Another final for Cork and Kilkenny

In contrast to the fresh pairing in the ladies’ football final, Sunday’s All-Ireland senior camogie decider at Croke Park is a familiar pairing.

Cork and Kilkenny do battle for the fifth time in the past decade, and Galway are the only other county to have appeared in the final since 2012.

Prior to that, Wexford featured in four finals over six years, and you have to go back to Tipperary and 2006 for the last time anyone else was there.

That’s not intended as a criticism, it’s just the way it is – as with hurling, camogie isn’t an easy sport to master. The best are the best because they dedicate so much to it, so getting up to their level is a considerable challenge.

Much has changed for Cork and Kilkenny since their 2010s rivalry was at its peak under the management of Paudie Murray and Anne Downey respectively. Matthew Twomey and Brian Dowling are now in charge as the pair duke it out again.

Last year, Cork beat Kilkenny at the semi-final stage but lost out to Galway in the final, whom the Cats had overcome in the 2020 decider.

Once more, there is likely to be little between the sides – and if you bet on them being involved again a year hence, you’d get a good run for your money.

Fierce clean hurling

The weather last Saturday must have felt like the gods playing a cruel trick on club GAA, finally given a chance for some proper scheduling in July and August.

It proved but a temporary blip and Sunday brought lovely weather as I covered Fr O’Neills against Blarney in the Co-op SuperStores Cork Senior A Hurling Championship at Caherlag.

The previous night, the local club Erin’s Own had beaten Glen Rovers in the premier senior championship and the team manager Martin Bowen was on duty at the gate on Sunday – it’s an element of the GAA that is almost satirised but it is almost unique and makes the organisation what it is.

Fr O’Neills, beaten in the last two finals, won by 3-23 to 0-16 against a Blarney team that finished with 14 players, which did nothing to alter the sense that they were being officiated a bit too strictly.

Early in the second half, one of their selectors audibly complained about the first-half free count being 10-2 against them, prompting a Fr O’Neills supporter behind the wire to proudly proclaim: “Our lads are fierce clean, nearly too nice!”