THE Donegal Minor Ladies will go in search of provincial glory when they take on Monaghan in today’s Ulster Final in Killyclogher, Tyrone at 3.30pm.
James McGinley’s team have been in excellent form this season, winning their four competitive games to date.
They advanced through to the Ulster Final after recording an impressive 4-9 to 0-6 win over Armagh on Bank Holiday Monday.
The team don’t have long to recover from that triumph, but they are still eagerly-waiting today’s decider.
“It’s brilliant to be through to the final,” said McGinley.
“When we were starting off at the beginning of the year, both the management and the players had the target of reaching the Ulster ‘A’ Final before the Leaving Cert.
“I’m not sure they really believed that they could do it until they beat Cavan, and they have really pushed on since then.
“The girls are all standing up to be counted, and they play for each other.
“Everyone is on the same hymn sheet, and they are great to watch when they are working together.”
Donegal went into Monday’s semi-final without two of their main players Megan Ryan and Kate McClenaghan, but they still proved much too strong for the Orchard county.
They laid the foundations for their victory in the first half, although McGinley said their display in the opening thirty minutes wasn’t without its flaws.
“We actually started poorly, and Armagh were on the front foot and got the first score of the game.
“But we soon lifted it and we scored a goal and two points in the space of four or five minutes, and that steadied us.
“Armagh set up with two sweepers, and that saw us have a lot of ball out around the middle of the field.
“We probably should have done more with it, and we should have been even further than seven points ahead at half-time.
“In saying that, we didn’t concede a point from play in the first half and that was pleasing.”
Donegal were wary of Armagh and they were determined to ensure that they didn’t get a sniff of a comeback.
McGinley’s side were disciplined and composed, and the outcome of the game was known long before the full-time whistle.
“We played some very good football in the second half. Niamh McDonald was outstanding at wing-forward, and she played her best game of the season so far.
“The girls were clever and they closed up shop and kept the defence tight.
“But we were still a threat in attack and tagged on another 2-5 to our tally.
“It was a fine performance, and it was really pleasing to see others step up when we were without Megan (Ryan) and Kate (McClenaghan).
McGinley has now watched his team see off Tyrone, Cavan, Antrim, and Armagh and he highlighted a noticeable shift in confidence over the last few weeks.
“There’s a great buzz around to be fair. The atmosphere in the dressing room after the match was brilliant and again on the bus home.
“After the first game against Tyrone, we were probably still a bit hesitant, but they are high on confidence now.
“They’re flying and their tails are up playing good football. There’s plenty of craic with them too.
“They are a really good bunch to be involved with and when they are winning, it’s even better.
“We stayed behind to watch the Monaghan game on Monday and the girls were looking at it, and picking out wee things here and there.
“They really want to win and we definitely won’t be going there just to make up the numbers.”
McGinley did have a few nervous hours following Monday’s game after a large chunk of his players headed for Gaoth Dobhair where the Senior Ladies Gaeltacht Final between Termon and Glenfin, as well as the Intermediate decider between St Naul’s and Naomh Muire took place.
Thankfully there were no serious injuries arising from either game.
With just six days to recover before the final, Donegal won’t be doing anything overly strenuous this week.
“We met up on Tuesday night for a light session, and we will do the same on Friday.
“Some of the girls have played a lot of football recently, so it’s all about recovery.
“One player has had four games and three training sessions in the last nine days, so we’re just trying to protect everyone as best we can.
“There were ten girls from the panel that played in the Gaeltacht Finals after our match on Monday. Aoife Greene got a wee bang but hopefully they will all be ok to play.”
Megan Ryan and Kate McClenaghan are both on the Donegal senior ladies panel, and it would be a huge blow if they weren’t able to take part this Sunday.
Both players are suffering with hamstring complaints, and McGinley says they won’t feature unless they are fit to do so.
“We would love to have them both but we will just have to see how it goes.
“They are two very important players for us, but they haven’t been able to train since they picked up their injuries.
“We have two light training sessions before the match and they will be receiving treatment from Lisa our physio.
“They will only play if they get the all clear to do so.”
Donegal were able to watch the second semi-final between Monaghan and Cavan after their own game came to an end, and it proved to be a lively contest.
A strong and physical Farney side eventually won out on a scoreline of 1-10 to 0-9.
Given that Donegal had difficulty in beating Cavan in the group stages, it indicates that they will face a stern test against Paula Cunningham’s team.
“Monaghan had seven or eight players on the Ulster Post Primary Interprovincial team.
“They have a lot of good players spread throughout their team. You have the likes of Lauren and Amy Garland, Jayne Drury, Hannah Sherlock, Aisling McAnespie, Maeve Monaghan, and Sinead Duffy, who we will have to watch very closely.
“They beat Cavan by four points, and Cavan are a very good team themselves, so that shows where they are at.
“They are solid defensively, but they also break out of defence with a lot of pace, and they go for the jugular when it’s on.
“We know we are going to have to play very well if we are to win.”