In what has been a rare year without some form of inter-county silverware, Meath stalwart Niamh O'Sullivan is hoping to achieve another career highlight in the colours of Dunshaughlin Royal Gaels over the coming weeks.
A back-to-back TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship winner with her county in 2021 and 2022, O’Sullivan also claimed the Lidl National Football League Division 2 and Division 1 titles in those respective years. Before that, she also helped the Royal County to secure intermediate honours at a Croke Park that was devoid of supporters in December 2020.
A little over three months earlier, O’Sullivan struck six points as Royal Gaels defeated Dee Rangers on a score of 2-19 to 3-06 to earn Meath intermediate club honours.
Much like with the county side, the 2021 All Star has enjoyed a strong transition back into the senior grade at club level as the Gaels reached the top-tier championship decider in 2022 – losing out in the end to defending champions Dunboyne by just three points.
Yet they have registered victories against Skryne and Simonstown thus far in the 2023 edition of the local SFC and with Meath’s bid for a third successive Brendan Martin Cup ending in a quarter-final reversal to Kerry, she is aiming to go a step further with the Dunshaughlin side this time around.
"We’ve won previous intermediate championships in Meath and we’ve always only managed to stay up a year in senior," O'Sullivan said.
"In the second year in senior, we always would have gotten relegated. When we won the intermediate last, we knew going up to senior that we wanted to be going up and competing, and staying at senior.
"We want to be competing at senior level, we want to be competing at semi-finals, finals. We were very disappointed with last year, how the result went.
"Considering we probably should have had a few more scores on the board, but that’s sport. We’re raring to go this year and I know we’re looking to go one step further this year. Hopefully it goes our way."
While there isn’t as much at stake as their final meeting last October, Royal Gaels will renew acquaintances with Dunboyne in their final Group A game of this year’s senior championship in Dunshaughlin today at 6pm.
Both teams are already guaranteed a place in the knockout rounds, but top spot and an automatic semi-final slot are the prizes on offer for the winner of the tie.
"It really all leads down to this weekend against Dunboyne, our good oul friends from Dunboyne," O'Sullivan quipped.
"We’re looking forward to it. We know who they have on their team. They’ve the likes of Emma Duggan, Shelly Melia and Sarah Wall in the back line there. It won’t be an easy task, but confidence is good in the camp in Dunshaughlin.
"Training is going well and we’re looking forward to the test on Saturday. I think it makes it a lot easier on us, the fact that we’ve a home game. That will hopefully help us get over the line, but it certainly won’t be easy. That’s for sure."
When O’Sullivan and her Meath colleagues return to inter-county duty in 2024, they will find themselves playing under a new manager.
A former goalkeeper with his native Kildare, Shane McCormack was recently recommended as the Royal County boss a few short weeks after stepping down as Armagh senior supremo.
However, O'Sullivan admitted: "I haven’t really thought about Meath just yet. I’m sure Shane is going to be onto us to meet up and I’m sure he’s going to be coming to a lot of the club games over the next few weeks and linking in with us.
"It’s exciting times and he does have great experience. He was involved with Armagh as a selector and then obviously as a manager last year.
"They won Division Two last year and they were unlucky to lose out in the Ulster final against Donegal, and they were unlucky in the All-Ireland series as well.
"He’s a young man as well. He’ll bring his ideas to the table and it will be an exciting period for Meath as well. Just for myself, I’m very much focused on club football at the moment."