For the second year in-a-row Donegal are facing into a Ladies National League Division Two final and a crack at promotion back up to top flight football.
They play Westmeath on Saturday in Parnell Park (5.30 pm). The game forms a double bill with the meeting of Cork and Mayo in the Division One final. Both games are being shown live on TG4.
Last year Armagh and a flighty young corner forward by the name of Aimee Mackin derailed Donegal’s bid for the Division Two League crown and promotion to Division One.
Mackin scored 2-5 from corner forward in Armagh’s 4-18 to 4-6 win. Yvonne McMonagle scored three of Donegal’s goals and Geraldine McLaughlin scored 1-2.
Twelve months on and a tournament game, the Donegal Comórtas Peil Na Gaeltachta senior final, may have derailed Donegal’s 2016 bid before a ball is kicked on Saturday evening on Dublin City’s Northside.
In that Comórtas final meeting of Termon and Glenfin on Monday in Glenties, Donegal lost two of its most influential players to injury. Goalscoring ace Geraldine McLaughlin and her sister, Nicole, who has been having one of her best seasons in a Donegal shirt since switching to midfield, suffered serious injuries and are definitely out of Saturday evening’s showdown with Westmeath.
Geraldine, one of the leading forwards in Ladies football, was stretchered off with a back injury and Nicole was forced out of the game with concussion. They were both removed to Letterkenny Hospital by ambulance and were still undergoing tests on Tuesday.
The proximity of the final to the Division Two league final were flagged last week and efforts to have the final postponed proved unsuccessful.
“The game should not have gone ahead, it is as simple as that,” Donegal manager Micheál Naughton fumed on Tuesday.
“We tried everything in our power to get the game off but our appeal fell on deaf ears. It is very disappointing that it went ahead just five days out from a big national title.
“It is very disappointing for Geraldine and Nicole that after all the effort they put in all season now to find they are going to miss a national final, all because of a club final that could easily have been postponed and played at a date in the next couple of weeks.
“It is hugely disappointing for the rest of the girls that also have put in so much work, effort and commitment into getting back to a league final and now to find that they have to play the game with two such influential players.
“Everybody knows the importance Geraldine and Nicole are to our team and game plan and now we have to plan without them for such a big game. We are not only playing for a league title on Saturday, we are also playing for promotion which is a huge prize and a prize Donegal want to win because we, Donegal, are a Division One side and the girls deserve to be playing in Division One,” said Naughton.
Geraldine and Nicole McLaughlin were not the only casualties of the weekend. Eilish Ward, another first choice player, suffered a broken nose in St Naul’s Intermediate Gaeltacht final win over Ardara.
“We trained on Sunday morning and the session went very well and then we are hit with the injuries. They certainly have put a damper on things.”
However, with the availability of a number of players that were not available earlier in the season due to a combination of injuries and studies, Donegal are in a better position to fill the gaps left by Geraldine and Nicole McLaughlin.
Despite the broken nose, Micheál Naughton was a little more confident of having Eilish Ward.
“I spoke to Eilish this morning and she feels she will be fine and is determined to play,” the Donegal boss told the Democrat on Tuesday afternoon.
Roisin Friel, Kelly Wilson, Kate Keaney, Blathnaid McLaughlin and Shannon McGroddy are the players that have been unavailable for much of the season and have only returned in recent weeks.
They are all first choice players and would be in the running for starting berths long before the injuries. But this is the quality of player that Micheál Naughton and his management team have available to the them to fill the vacancies left by the McLaughlin sisters.
Donegal go into the final on the back of an unbeaten eight game run that includes an opening day 3-4 to 0-8 away win over Westmeath. Amber Barrett (2) and Eilish Ward scored the goals as Donegal came from five down at half-time, 0-7 to 0-2.
That and a third round defeat to Cavan are the only games lost by Westmeath who take a five game unbeaten run to the final which includes a 4-12 to 1-11 semi-final win over Clare.
Donegal defeated Cavan 0-13 to 0-6 in their semi-final.