Donegal Ladies, despite going down to defeat, put up a very spirited display in their first game in Division One against All-Ireland champions, Cork.
If Donegal had taken all their goal chances, they could well have caused one of the biggest upsets ever in Ladies football. They were just four points adrift in the 43rd minute when Geraldine McLaughlin fielded in front of the Cork posts, turned and rattled the crossbar with the goalkeeper beaten all ends up.
Manager Michael Naughton had plenty of reason to be pleased as his charges, despite a shaky start, never threw in the towel against their illustrious opponents. McLaughlin was twice foiled by the crossbar and Ciara D Shovlin spurned a very good goal chance in the opening half.
Cork started in whirlwind fashion with Rhona Buckley pointing after three minutes and Ciara O’Sullivan rattling the net three minutes later.
Geraldine McLaughlin was short from a 20m free while Laura Gallagher made a great stop at the other end.
Geraldine McLaughlin finally got Donegal off the mark, winning a free and pointing on 15 minutes and a minute later she fired over a second from play.
But Donegal were hit with a second goal when Brid Stack broke clear and set up Nollaig Cleary for a clinical finish on 19 minutes.
Donegal should have had a goal on 22 minutes when Geraldine McLaughlin and Karen Guthrie carved an opening with McLaughlin being denied but the ball broke free and Ciara Shovlin had a great chance but instead of taking it on the ground she elected to pick it up and the chance was gone.
Ger O’Flynn had a Cork point before Guthrie and McLaughlin were denied again while before the break McLaughlin and Grace Kearney traded points to leave Cork ahead by 2-4 to 0-3 at the break.
The Cork management had harsh words for the visitors at the break, saying any report of the half would describe their display as lack-lustre, but it was the Donegal management’s team talk that had the best result as Donegal struck for a goal within 30 seconds of the restart. Donegal’s twin strike force of Guthrie and McLaughlin combined with McLaughlin getting on the end of a high centre to palm goalwards. The effort was stopped but McLaughlin followed up to bundle over the line.
And while Nollaig Cleary hit back with a point, McLaughlin (free) and Guthrie pointed to reduce the margin to three.
Juliette Murphy and Annie Walsh pointed came either side of one from Eilish Ward and then on 43 minutes Geraldine McLaughlin did everything right but crashed her effort off the crossbar.
Cork closed out the game with a third goal from Nollaig Casey on 49 minutes, but Geraldine McLaughlin won and pointed another free with seven minutes left.
In the final minutes, with both sides making numerous changes, Doireann O’Sullivan pointed and Grace Kearney added a fourth goal and a final point.
But there was honour in defeat for a young Donegal side. Laura Gallagher was outstanding in goal; Ciara Hegarty, Kelly Wilson were excellent; Eilish Ward did very well as a sweeper in front of the full-back line, while up front Karen Guthrie and Geraldine McLaughlin were top class, while Rose Boyle also made a great contribution in the second half.
Donegal: Laura Gallagher; Orla Carr, Ciara Hegarty, Kelly Wilson; Grainne Houston, Niamh Friel, Kate Keaney; Aoife McDonnell, Roisin McCafferty; Eilish Ward (0-1), Roisin Friel, Treasa Doherty; Ciara D Shovlin, Karen Guthrie (0-1), Geraldine McLaughlin (1-5, 4f). Subs., Rose Boyle for Shovlin ht; Deirdre Foley for O Carr; Emer Gallagher for R McCafferty, both 38; Emma McGrory for T Doherty 50; Treasa McCafferty for Ward 55.
Cork: Elaine Harte; Annmarie Walsh, Deirdre O’Reilly, Rena Buckley; Brid Corkery, Brid Stack, Aine Sheehan; Marita Kelly, Annie Walsh (0-1); Juliette Murphy (0-1,f), Ciara O’Sullivan (1-0), Ger O’Flynn (0-1); Nollaig Cleary (2-1), Rhona Buckley (0-2), Grace Kearney (1-2). Subs., Doireann O’Sullivan (0-1) for O’Reilly; Orla Flynn for Sheehan, both ht; Roisin O’Sullivan for Annmarie Walsh 50; Laura Cronin for C O’Sullivan 56; Niamh O’Keeffe for Cleary; Eleanor Ahern for Annie Walsh both 56.
Referee: John Niland (Sligo)
“All we asked them today was to go out and put pride in the jersey and I couldn’t fault any one of them today,” said Donegal manager Michael Naughton.
“Geraldine had a shot of the crossbar. If we had got that we were level. The girls were full of heart and commitment. You don’t mind going out and getting beat, if you put in a lot of effort and the Cork manager came over there afterwards and said they were shocked. They thought they would come up here and walk all over us. But this Donegal team, we’re not going to be walked over. Anybody that beats us, will have to do so on the pitch. Credit to them today, they played their hearts out.
“There were three clear goal chances. Ciara D’s (Shovlin) in the first half was a good chance,” said Michael, who felt that she should probably have taken it on the ground.
“On another day we could have taken a result out of here which would have been unbelievable altogether,” said Michael, who now takes his team to Kildare next Sunday for the second series of matches.