By Frank Craig
Donegal are back in Championship action on Saturday afternoon when they take on Tyrone in Cusack Park (throw-in, 1.45pm).
Maxi Curran’s outfit have already accounted for the Red Hand girls this season. They met back at the start of June in the Ulster SFC semi-final.
Geraldine McLaughlin scored two goals and Niamh Hegarty also found the net as the defending champions progressed, but only after battling to overcome a strong challenge from their close neighbours.
Tir Chonaill would go onto retain their provincial title in spectacular fashion with a stunning 5-12 to 1-9 pummelling of Armagh three weeks ago.
It’s been raked over continuously and it must be tired ground now – especially for the Donegal set-up. But the fact remains that the panel was decimated by a spate of drop offs and departures last winter.
That’s what makes their achievements to date this term all the more remarkable.
“It’s been brilliant,” said McLaughlin on the season so far. “Yeah, we lost a lot of good girls, some big names. It was definitely a concern looking back. We really didn’t know where we were going to be at.
“It seemed like such a big ask for those young girls to be up to that level right away. But the ones that have come in have been excellent.
“They’ve stood up and they’ve been counted. It didn’t faze them. They deserve all the credit that has come their way. The league was one thing but they brought that potential into championship.
“Some of the more experienced girls had to wait for so long to get over the line at senior level in Ulster. I was fortunate enough to have tasted that early enough in my career (in 2015). I remember it was a real confidence booster on a personal level.
“It’s amazing to think that so many of the new faces already have such a huge medal now in their back pockets. It’s a brilliant platform. They’ve a taste for it now and they’ll no doubt want more.
“It hopefully means we’ve the foundations there and we’re going to be competitive at this level for the foreseeable future.”
Tyrone – last year’s Intermediate All-Ireland winners – put up an impressive showing last weekend against Mayo in the group opener. The Connacht ladies just about prevailed in Healy Park on a difference of 3-14 to 3-11.
McLaughlin added: “Tyrone were good against us the first time we played them. They no doubt have improved since. They came at us that day. They had great energy and were well organised.
“They are up from Intermediate and they’ve made a really positive impression in the senior championship. They pushed Mayo all the way last weekend so they’ll definitely fancy their chances this time out.”
Tyrone will hope no doubt that Donegal’s recent lay-off will mean a lack of match sharpness. But McLaughlin is adamant that won’t be the case.
“We’ve been really busy. We’ve had in-house games and you’d hope that stands to you in terms of sharpness. It was also a good time to work on different things.
“We’d some little niggles and knocks and the time has allowed those to fully clear up. So it’s definitely been a positive few weeks for the group.”
Geraldine McLaughlin recently picked up the LGFA’s June Player of the Month award. She’s recognised as one of the top forwards in the game.
But Nicole says her sister is very unassuming and takes the attention and profile all in her stride.
“Geraldine is so laid back,” she said. “She’s really modest. When she got the Player of the Month she mentioned she was for Dublin.
“I just thought it was for work. But then I seen the photos of her getting the award. That’s typical Geraldine. No fuss!
“No one knew in our house. She landed straight from Dublin that same Wednesday then for training. She takes it all in her stride. She gets the scores but it’s her workrate that stands out for me.
“There are usually two players on her and she’s chasing them back when the ball is coming our way. She’s a team player but has that individual quality. She brings so much to the side.”
McKenna is hoping Donegal can beat Cavan 24 hours before the senior men go head-to-head in the same fixture...