by Daragh Small
When Armagh’s Meabh Moriarty played in her first TG4 All-Ireland Junior final in 2005, there were only 20,706 at Croke Park.
A year after that win over Sligo, Armagh reached their first ever senior decider but lost to a Cork side embarking on an era of dominance.
The attendance that day was 25,665 but 12 years later, that number had nearly doubled when Dublin beat Cork last September, in front of 50,141 spectators.
Clann Éireann defender Moriarty has seen Ladies Football grow exponentially during her career, and just before her 34th birthday, she has never been so in love with the game.
However, she never thought she would see the day when a mammoth crowd like last September’s filed into Croke Park, hoping to catch of glimpse of their heroines.
“You wouldn’t have two or three people coming to watch your club games back then. It would just be yourselves rocking up,” said Moriarty.
“Ladies Football is a completely different animal now. It is so much more demanding, physical, it’s played at a faster pace and it is so much more skilful. It has just upped a level.
“When we started it was just junior and senior, then that change to junior, intermediate and senior has been massive for the game.
“It is a different kettle of fish now.”
But as she prepares for the latest instalment in her senior inter-county career, it’s a time for reflection for the personal trainer, who works at Focus Gym in north Armagh.
It was eight years ago when Moriarty fell out of love with the game that she had dedicated her whole life too.
“It was a very turbulent time and I felt that on my shoulders because I was leading the team at that stage,” said Moriarty.
“It was my first experience of being captain of my county. If I could do it different I wouldn’t take it so personally. I took it personally that we were failing.
“I would be able to see the bigger picture now. I am glad that year is left behind. I was thinking before I went bed at night.
“But to me football is religion, I was doing it since I was five or six and no matter whether it’s good or bad football is always in your thoughts.
“Everything you are doing is working towards that, whether it is your work in the gym, rest days, work on the pitch, your nutrition, everything.
“It is not just going to training a couple of times a week.”
Moriarty was desperate for a fresh outlook, and a five-year sojourn to Australia fitted the bill. She set up in Melbourne where her new career unfolded but inevitably football found its way back in.
“I didn’t play football for the first two years in Australia but that was more to do with starting as a full-time personal trainer,” said Moriarty.
“I felt like I couldn’t give up any evenings but one of my friends eventually got me involved in a club called Sinn Féin.
“I totally found my love for football again. It was really refreshing. It was like being back playing university football. You were playing with girls you weren’t going to be playing with the next year, because everyone comes and goes in Australia. Each year is a different experience.
“I happened to join a club that were really family orientated, everyone looked out for each other. We did well when we were out there as well.”
In her day job, Moriarty has taken on 12 clients and also trains multiple athletes and teams looking to get the edge in their chosen sport.
But this week her main focus is Donegal, and revenge for the 9-21 to 4-8 hammering that Armagh suffered in the 2018 TG4 Ulster SFC final.
“After last year the only place we wanted to be, again, was the Ulster final,” said Moriarty.
“We left it behind us that day and it was completely out of character how we performed. No one has put that to bed yet. We want to do that on Sunday.
“We have worked hard right the way from November. Taking it one day at a time, getting into winning ways in the league and taking it from there.
“We had a nice, controlled and composed game against Monaghan, and we are trying to bring that performance again.”
Next Sunday's TG4 Ulster Ladies Senior Football Final between Armagh and Donegal (3.45pm) will be shown LIVE on the LGFA's Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/LadiesGaelicFootball/
Follow the hoganstand.com match tracker this weekend for live coverage of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers, as well as the Leinster and Munster SHC finals.Tweet