By Niall Gartland
DONEGAL stalwart Nicole McLaughlin is cagey about loose talk that their upcoming opponents Meath aren’t the force of previous years.
Maxi Curran’s side are set to take on Meath in their second of two group stage clashes this weekend, although they are virtually assured of progression to the last eight following their win over Waterford nearly a fortnight ago.
Meath have won the last two All-Ireland Championships but haven’t looked quite so formidable this season, escaping relegation from Division One by the skin of their teeth and losing to Dublin in the Leinster final, albeit narrowly. They got their championship campaign up and running at the weekend with a hard-fought victory, also over Waterford, but a win’s a win and they’ll still fancy their chances of retaining their All-Ireland title.
McLaughlin, who has been playing for Donegal ladies since 2012, points out that the day of Meath becoming an average team overnight is fanciful.
“In other years Meath wouldn’t do so well in Leinster but then would end up winning the All-Ireland. I’m sure they’d take their All-Irelands ahead of Leinster and League titles.
“It wasn’t as if they were that bad in the league, and they did better than us given we were relegated.
“I still expect them to come to the fore in the championship. It’s good that we got the weekend off and got the opportunity to see them against Waterford, they’re still a really good team.”
It’s been a topsy-turvy sort of year for Donegal but they seem to be coming to the boil at the right time. An injury-plagued league campaign culminated in relegation, but they got their act together in the Ulster Championship with a stunning victory over Armagh on provincial final day. Most of their stalwarts are available at present, and they’ve been further boosted by the surprise return of Nicole’s sister Geraldine, who saw action for the first time this year in their championship opener against Waterford.
Nicole has now one five Ulster titles and her latest medal means as much, if not more than the rest of them given the adverse circumstances earlier in the campaign.
“It’s been one of those years where we couldn’t get any sort of win at the start and ended up relegated to Division Two.
“Then we came out and won Ulster, that’s what it’s all about really. People start to forget about how the league once we started winning games. It’s my fifth medal and it was great to get over the line given we lost a couple of finals to Armagh in recent years and also had the blow of relegation. For me anyway, it’s probably the best one I’ve won.”
It was up in the air last season whether their long-standing manager Maxi Curran would return as it looked like Donegal were set for a period of transition. Nicole was glad he came back for another crack at it, and says that they get treated well by Maxi and the rest of the GAA community in the county.
“I was happy to see him come back, he’s put in a lot of time and work into Donegal foootball. He’s brought us to another level. We’re well looked after in Donegal, we have the same sponsors as the men. You know where you stand, that you’re as important, and Maxi brings a lot of professionalism to the table as well so we’re glad to have him and the rest of the management team.”