McNulty happy with Donegal’s progress

By Dáire Bonnar

DONEGAL ladies boss John McNulty was happy with his first league campaign in charge of the squad as he looks ahead to the Ulster final against Armagh this Sunday.

The bainisteoir was appointed as manager in November last year and took them into the Division Two campaign after a winless Division One campaign last year, which saw them relegated.

They couldn’t get promoted after losing to Tyrone in MacCumhaill Park with three games to go but finished strong with away wins to Cavan and Tipperary to finish in third place. While they missed out on promotion, the manager wasn’t downbeat with how they fared.

“Obviously at the start of the year you’re always looking to try and finish in the top two which is probably the aim and to try and get promoted but in saying that, overall with the league I’m probably quite happy. We had four away games and bar Tyrone and Kildare who were the two that went up and we were very competitive with, we got results in the other games.

“We won four, drew one and lost two and on reflection with a fairly new team and a lot of new young players coming in I thought it was a successful league campaign from that point of view to try and build the blocks for the future.

“I was quite happy with the end result, we went down and beat Tipperary and we had some other good results and that’s where you’re trying to build your base from. We were competitive with every team in the division and that says a lot for us with trying to grow as a team and becoming successful.

“There were a few new players coming in and starting with the likes of Shauna McFadden, Eva Gallagher, then a few others probably got more game time like Shannon McLaughlin, Caoimhe Keon and they have all come in and done well and it’s trying to mix that with whatever is already there and established.”

Donegal go into the Ulster final as the reigning champions, but they have had a long lay-off since their last competitive game in that win over Tipperary eight weeks ago.

McNulty admits it isn’t ideal, but there are no quick fixes with just the two teams in the Ulster Senior Championship.

The top grade in the province consisted of five teams just three years ago, but with one team relegated throughout the country every year, Tyrone, Monaghan and Cavan have been relegated from the All-Ireland Senior Championship in consecutive years and consequently the Ulster Senior as well, leaving just the two teams left.

“The way the structure is you have to come out of the Intermediate Championship to go into the Senior Championship and I don’t know how they would fix it, do you just run an Ulster Championship and wherever you get you go into that but it’s also seeded on your province’s result so I don’t know how they could do that.

“If Down or Tyrone or Monaghan win the Intermediate this year then you might have three teams again next year if Donegal and Armagh stay in the Senior Championship. At one time there might have been four or five teams in our Senior Championship but a lot may have dropped back down. That’s the way it goes.

“It hasn’t been ideal, it’s too much of a gap in my mind and it’s far too long to be waiting but that’s the way it is, there’s nothing you can really do about it other than prepare for it and that’s what we’ve been doing.

“I would have had no issue with them playing for their clubs but it always seemed to clash with our Sunday morning trainings so really it didn’t work.

“There might have been one weekend where they got to play but in general it clashed with our trainings.

“We’ve played a few challenge games and that to keep us up to speed and on injuries concerns there is nothing major going into it, we’re looking forward to it now and we’re good to go.”

Last year the pair met in the final and Armagh were denied a fourth Ulster title in-a-row when Ciara McGarvey struck a late goal.

However, the Termon player, along with club mates Emer Gallagher and Nicole McLaughlin, haven’t played for Donegal this year while Glenfin’s Karen Guthrie also opted out.

Last year’s manager Maxi Curran sprung a couple of surprises in that final as Niamh Hegarty and Tanya Kennedy were drafted in for their first Donegal appearances of the season, but McNulty says not to expect any surprises when they take to the field in Clones this Sunday.

“Maybe last year there were a few last rolls of the dice for players who had maybe been there for their final year.

“We’ve had to cope with a lot of retirements and people not coming back. A lot of those girls might have been coming back for one last year for quite a while and sometimes that one more year has to stop so last year was probably their swan-song to do that.”

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