Donegal came agonisingly close to producing the biggest shock of the Ladies Football championship so far this summer.
The Donegal girls took Kerry to extra time in their 2nd round qualifier tie at St Brendan’s Park in Birr last Monday, but ultimately they ran out of steam and had to console themselves with that most abominable of consolation prizes, the moral victory.
In a game where both sides employed extremely defensive tactics for the majority of the tie and when the warm conditions made it very difficult to break out of defence in the numbers required to support the few remaining forwards, scores were very hard to come by and two first half goals from Geraldine McLaughlin and Emma McCrory very nearly helped Donegal over the line against their much more highly rated opponents.
However while Davy McLaughlin’s troops led by a point at various key stages of the match, they never succeeded in building up a meaningful lead and once the game went into extra time, Kerry’s greater strength in depth, embodied by their ability to spring a star player like Lousie Ní Muircheartaigh from the bench to kick two vital points, was enough to get them over the line.
Donegal endured a hugely difficult league campaign, including a six point defeat to the Kingdom back in April, but they played their best football of the year in the Ulster Final against Armagh and carried that form into this game, with Katy Herron, Karen Guthrie and Geraldine McLaughlin showing plenty of power down the middle.
McLaughlin and Sarah Jane McDonald kicked two points to help Donegal into an early 0-2 to 0-1 lead, but the ability of players like Louise Galvin, Bernie Breen and Patrice Dennehy to break tackles eventually led to overlaps and chances for the Kerry forwards and they led by double scores, 0-6 to 0-3, after twenty minutes.
A brave punched goal by Emma McCrory got Donegal right back into the tie however as she reached highest and touched the ball over the onrushing Edel Murphy, taking a heavy hit in the process. Kerry responded with a couple of scores of their own but an excellent team goal just before half time sent Donegal into the dressing rooms leading by the bare minimum.
Geraldine McLaughlin was the scorer but most of the credit must go to Karen Guthrie, who made a great catch from Kate Keaney’s pass before laying the ball off under pressure to set up the Termon full forward.
Kerry, who were 1/8 favourites before the game started and were similarly priced at half time, failed to press on in the second half and while Donegal never really got to grips with the free-scoring Sarah Houlihan, they did shut down Dennehy and Galvin, forcing the latter player to be withdrawn – albeit only to come back on and make a crucial late intervention.
The Kingdom ladies pressed hard but Donegal held firm and a stunning block by Niamh McLaughlin to deny Laura Rogers looked like it could be a turning point, as Katy Herron came down the failed and landed a haymaker of a point to draw the sides level, 2-7 to 0-13. Twice Donegal took the lead in the last ten minutes but on each occasion Kerry produced a response, sending the game into overtime.
Having arguably worked that bit harder over the course of the first hour, Donegal started to show signs of fatigue once the game restarted and their defence began offering gaps that the Kerry attack could exploit. The Munster county struck 1-3 in just five minutes of play towards the end of the first period essentially killed off Donegal’s challenge. Louise Galvin, reintroduced after sitting out thirteen minutes, scored the crucial goal after O’Muircheartaigh picked open the Donegal defence and while Donegal reduced the gap with some late points, strong defensive work from Cáit Lynch and Aisling Leonard ensured that they never came close to getting the third goal that they badly needed.
Scorers for Kerry: S Houlihan 0-8 (0-4f), L Scanlon (0-1f), P Dennehy, B Breen 0-3 each, L Galvin 1-0, L O’Muircheartaigh 0-2, E Sherwood, L Rogers, D Hallissey 0-1 each.
Scorers for Donegal: G McLaughlin 1-6 (0-4f), K Herron 0-4, E McCrory 1-0, SJ McDonald 0-2, Niamh McLaughlin, K Guthrie 0-1 each.
Kerry: E Murphy; A Lyons, A Desmond, D Hallissey; E Sherwood, C Kelly, D Corridan; L Scanlon, B Breen; M Quirke, C Lynch, A Leonard; P Dennehy, L Galvin, S Houlihan. Subs: L Rogers for Corridan (46), M O’Connell for Scanlon (46), L Ní Muircheartaigh for Galvin (52), Galvin for Rogers (65), C Buckley for O’Connell (74)
Donegal: L Gallagher; Nicole McLaughlin, E Gallagher, O Carr; R Boyle, K Keaney, S McGroddy; K Herron, E Ward; Niamh McLaughlin, R McCafferty, K Guthrie; SJ McDonald, G McLaughlin, E McCrory. Subs: K Feeney for McGroddy (31, temp), A Cunningham for McCafferty (45), Feeney for McGroddy (57), R Friel for McCrory (FT), C Hegarty for Boyle (63), J O’Donnell for Feeney (70), AM Logue for Friel (74), K Wilson for Nicole McLaughlin (78)
Referee: Des McEnery (Westmeath)