Donegal delight at winning start

By Michael McMullan

VICTORY over All-Ireland champions Meath has created a buzz in the Donegal camp and brings belief insists captain Niamh McLaughlin.

Niamh Hegarty top scored for Maxi Curran’s side who needed a late free from Karen Guthrie to clinch victory in Páirc Tailteann.

Like all camogie and ladies football teams, Donegal will see out the rest of their season under protest urging all three associations to come together to agree a charter for the 2024 season.

After a chastening league campaign that ended with relegation from the top flight, Donegal regained their Ulster title before back-to-back wins saw them top their group to earn a home quarter-final with Dublin on Sunday week.

“Everyone likes winning, but I think the most important thing for us are the performances,” McLaughlin told Gaelic Life. “We are delighted, it was a great win and there is a great buzz about the place. It adds that bit of confidence within ourselves, that bit of belief always helps.”

The sides have locked horns “five or six” times over the last two seasons – both in challenge and competitive games.

“There was nothing between us,” McLaughlin offers, despite Meath winning both competitive outings last season.

“We felt it wasn’t like they were miles and miles ahead of us, they probably took their scores when they came and were able to see the games out.

“On the flipside, on Sunday, we were able to do what they had done to us. We were able to add on an extra point from Karen’s free to put two between us and we were able to see the game out.”

Sunday’s game was a “free hit” as such for Donegal who had already qualified and while McLaughlin feels there are easy draws, she welcomes a game she hopes the county will come out and support their quest to maintain their winning run.

“Winning is a habit and we’re hoping to keep going with it,” she added, also explaining the “massive” importance of their recent Ulster final win over champions Armagh.

“Ask any player in Ulster –women or men – and they’ll tell you it is an important competition. We hadn’t won it in a few years and Armagh would be very strong.”

McLaughlin was one of the experienced players to have missed a chunk of the league, making her return from injury in the latter rounds of the league. Getting players back and the input of the management team has been important to Donegal’s turning of the corner.

Determination and motivation were important ingredients. There was also a trust they could turn the corner. While there were heavy defeats, some of their games were lost by the kick of a ball.

“A lot of credit goes to the management team and Maxi for keeping us at it,” McLaughlin added.

“Whether you are winning or not, you still have to go to training and prepare for the next match. We got the just rewards; we always knew we had the talent.”

It’s a fourth quarter final meeting in as many seasons with Donegal emerging winners in both league and championship meetings last season.

“They will be physical and very well set up. There has never been a pile between us,” McLaughlin concluded. “I always look forward to playing the Dubs, so we’ll get our heads down and prepare for it.”

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