There is always a spark, a moment when a reasonable season turns into something special. Donegal’s spark came when they beat Monaghan in Termon.
That is the opinion of team manager, Micheál Naughton, speaking ahead of the Lidl Ladies National League final against Cork this Sunday in Parnell Park, Dublin. (Throw-in 4 p.m.)
“It was the first game back after the death of my brother, Peter. Monaghan got off to a great start that day, but our girls stuck to their task and eventually we got back in the game and got the result,” said Naughton.
The Donegal manager had suffered the bereavement a few weeks earlier and the home game against Mayo was postponed as a result.
After the win over Monaghan, Donegal went to Mallow in Cork the following week and secured victory over the kingpins of Ladies football.
“The Monaghan game gave our girls belief. Before this Donegal used to think that taking on the likes of Dublin, Cork, Mayo were beyond them. But they have shown great character this year,” said the Sligo man.
The manager was in Dublin along with his captain, Geraldine McLaughlin, this week as part of the build-up to the league final. It is a new experience for Donegal Ladies, a first ever Division One League final date.
“It has been a big week for the girls and hopefully all will be good on Sunday,” says Naughton.
“It has been a big year, winning Division Two to get top flight status. Our aim was to retain our Division One status and after that to progress as far as possible.
“The commitment of the girls has been brilliant in the league and to finish top of the table was great, but it will count for nothing unless we go on and win it.
“We could become the first ever team to get promotion from Division Two to go on and win Division One,” said Naughton.
“We would also be the first ever Donegal team to win a Division One League title.
“If we play to our potential, we would be afraid of nobody. We have to go into the game relaxed and give it everything. Then we’ll see what happens. No matter what, we need to have no regrets,” said the Donegal boss.
Donegal have a few injury worries ahead of the game and the manager confirmed they will definitely be without Ailish Ward. The St. Naul’s player missed the Galway semi-final with a hamstring injury, and is still troubled.
“We are also assessing Ciara Hegarty and Nicole McLaughlin. We will make a decision on McLaughlin at training this week. Ciara took a knock in the Galway game and was concussed. We are hoping for the best that she might be available,” said Naughton.
However, what has really impressed the Donegal boss this year is the strength of the panel. “We have a great panel. That’s what has made the difference this year. The girls are playing as a group and it all helps at training with greater competition for places. Every team we ielded in the league this year has been different.
“As I keep telling them, it’s not about the 15 that starts; it’s about the 15 at the finish.”
One of the unfortunate things about Sunday’s final against Cork is that it clashes with the club championship in Donegal, which means that many who would like to make the trip to support the girls will not be able to do so.
“It’s disappointing, the clash with the club fixtures, but that’s the way the draw goes. I suppose when the fixtures were being made back at the start of the year, they couldn’t have foresaw this happening. Hopefully anyone who is available will make the trip to Dublin to cheer on the girls. They deserve the support.”
Naughton has a great record with the Donegal ladies over the years and is really looking forward to testing himself against the best in the country in Cork.
“These are the type of games you want for your players. I’m really looking forward to it. They have to be testing themselves all the time and on Sunday the girls have that opportunity on Sunday,” he said.
Sunday’s final is live on TG4.