By Frank Craig
Geraldine McLaughlin is back to her devastating best and is gunning for Ulster SFC glory once more.
Donegal ladies tangle with Armagh in Enniskillen today (3.45pm) as Damien Devaney and Maxi Curran’s girls look to hold on to their provincial crown.
The Tir Chonaill girls have been in blistering form to date in this season’s championship race. They pummelled Monaghan by 14 points last time out and go into the weekend’s encounter in Brewster Park as firm favourites.
McLaughlin helped herself to 1-5 in that 3-17 to 1-9 rout over the Farney girls. However, she has warned her teammates not to get too carried away ahead of today’s game.
The Orchard ladies know exactly what it takes to be successful at this level. They are a side laced with quality and experience. In the likes of Caroline O’Hanlon, Aimee Mackin, Kelly Mallon, Laura McConville and Tiarna Grimes; McLaughlin is well aware that Armagh possess some of the game’s top players.
She told the Donegal News: “We’re definitely not taking anything for granted. You can’t underestimate Armagh. It wasn’t too long ago that they were our bogey team. Even last year we were lucky to get over them.
“I think we were down eight points at half-time. It took a big effort to get back into that game and turn it around. I’m sure they’ll have plenty of motivation this Sunday. We know we’re in for a tight, tight game.”
The Termon girl had an injury blighted NFL when a troublesome knee complaint limited her involvement. Now back in rude health and bang on form, McLaughlin believes the side is capable of reaching new heights this term.
“We used the league to get players playing and look at certain things,” she added. “We’d a couple of players come in, players that had never played county, and they really staked claims. It was very important to get those girls game-time at this level.
“We missed out on the semi-finals. It was disappointing at the time. But in hindsight it probably has allowed us to get through an enormous amount of important work on the training ground. We were able to get the heads down and that suited us just fine.
“We also had a lot of people coming back from injury throughout the league. They were able to get back up to speed too. I think it worked out well for us. I had a little bit of keyhole (surgery) done on my knee back in January. It was nothing major.
“But it took a few weeks to get back up to speed. I spent a lot of time with Adam (Speer). He put me through my paces and that work was very important. We’d a lot of one-on-one rehab sessions. But the extra work made sure I was back sooner rather than later.”
Despite their recent success inside Ulster, Donegal have yet to make a significant dent in the All-Ireland series. They crashed out to an experienced Mayo last year. Despite the lack of headway there, they are viewed as one of the few sides capable of relinquishing Dublin’s grip on the Brendan Martin Cup.
McLaughlin though, isn’t entertaining any talk of an All-Ireland push just yet. Donegal – she says – have their hands full as it is attempting to retain their Ulster title.
“We haven’t looked past the next game since the very start,” she continued. “It’s been that way since the last five years. It’s no secret that we’ve struggled to get past that quarter-final stage. But at the minute that’s not even on our radar. We know we’ve good enough to compete and beat any side. We really believe that.
“But we have to go out and prove it on the field. Talk gets you nowhere. At the minute all we’re concerned about is Armagh. They’ll have the exact same mind-set as ourselves. Sunday is going to be a real battle.”