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Duggan the Meath hero once more as back-to-back All-Ireland bid roars into final

The Royals overcame Donegal to set-up a final meeting with Kerry.

Meath's Emma Duggan and Deirdre Foley of Donegal.
Meath's Emma Duggan and Deirdre Foley of Donegal.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Meath 0-12

Donegal 1-7

AND SO, MEATH’S bid for back-to-back All-Ireland senior titles roars on.

The reigning champions were two-point winners over Donegal at Croke Park this afternoon, and now face Kerry in a new-look final on 31 July.

Emma Duggan was the Royals’ hero once again, the sharpshooter standing up when it mattered most and scoring 0-4 in a Player of the Match performance.

The Royals had to dig deep, losing both Vikki Wall and Máire O’Shaughnessy to yellow cards in the second half. But the big match experience and know-how of Eamonn Murray’s side shone through down the home straight, after their fast start to the second period.

Having never won an All-Ireland senior title before they did so last year in their first year back in the top-flight, the fairytale continues with the Cork-Dublin dominance well and truly broken. It’s the first time since 2002 neither side will contest the final.

For Donegal, the wait for their first senior decider appearance goes on, and this clash, a repeat of the 2022 league final which Meath won by two points, was just their second semi-final after 2018. 

vikki-wall-and-aoibheann-leahy-mary-kate-lynch-and-monica-mcguirk-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

An extremely cagey, ultra-defensive game was expected here, and that’s exactly what unfolded early doors. Meath’s system is well-known at this stage, and Maxi Curran’s Donegal had their own to counter with. The first half was unquestionably a drab affair.

The start was promising with Geraldine McLaughlin scoring two brilliant points from play, and a Stacey Grimes free-kick sandwiched in between, to leave it 0-2 to 0-1 with five minutes on the clock.

Monica McGuirk denied Yvonne Bonner after, but in truth, the Glefin star should have done better. It turned into a real possession game, with serious patience required in the build-up, but but both sides’ shooting really let them down. 

Meath had three wides and one shot dropped short before Grimes grabbed their next point of the game in the 15th minute. Donegal had wides of their own, with the post keeping them out on several occasions too.

Captain Niamh McLaughlin stood up for a big few minutes; first clipping a superb point off the crossbar, and then expertly slotting home a penalty just after. It was Bonner who won it with 18 minutes on the clock, the score 1-3 to 0-2 thereafter.

More of the same defensive, cagey action followed, the crowd roaring to life when household names Wall and Duggan got on the ball and looked to make something happen, but it was pretty dull otherwise. 

Until Orlagh Lally ended a long scoreless spell for Meath just before the break, sending an effort high and over the Hill 16 goal, the team move originating from an excellent Grimes block in Meath’s own D.

1-3 to 0-3 at the halfway point, the champions upped the ante on the restart. They hit three unanswered scores through Wall, Niamh O’Sullivan and Duggan, their notably faster movement of the ball paying dividends. The only blot on their copybook was the loss of Máire O’Shaughnessy to the sin-bin, the call perhaps a questionable one.

Grimes fired them into the lead with two frees, won by soon-to-be AFLW duo Wall and Lally respectively, Meath well on top in the early stages of the second half. There was more poor shooting at both ends, but it was a livelier second half for the most part, with hard hits flying in.

vikki-wall-and-tanya-kennedy Meath's Vikki Wall and Tanya Kennedy of Donegal. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Grimes (free) and Bonner exchanged scores, and there were some big turnovers as the battle heated up and O’Shaughnessy returned to the fold. Katy Herron brought Donegal to within a point, as they looked to get danger-woman Karen Guthrie involved. Herself, McLaughlin and Bonner form a threatening triangle, though injury has hampered her campaign and consigned her to the role of half-time substitute today.

Bonner levelled matters with a little over 10 minutes left, and Meath were left to tackle the finish without Wall. The 2021 Footballer of the Year saw yellow for consistent fouling, her last act a clash with Nicole McLaughlin.

In her absence, clubmate Duggan stepped up with a huge score to edge Meath’s noses in front. There was goalmouth action at the other end either side of that of that one; Mary Kate Lynch making a vital goal-line catch after McGuirk was side-tracked by a high ball, before the ‘keeper stopped a Guthrie goal chance.

Duggan landed a massive free at the other end to make it 0-11 to 1-6, and Guthrie did likewise to make it a one-point game with a little over two minutes on the clock. 

Meath played keep-ball, perhaps dangerously at times, doing enough to get the ball to Duggan, who bagged the insurance score, after her buzzer-beating heroics in the quarter-final.

There was no shortage of drama in the dying seconds — a nasty injury to Lynch, another questionable call or two and the return of Wall — but Meath did enough to march on. 

Scorers for Meath: Stacey Grimes (0-5, 4f), Emma Duggan (0-4, 1f), Orlagh Lally,  Vikki Wall, Niamh O’Sullivan (all 0-1).

Scorers for Donegal: Niamh McLaughlin (1-1), Geraldine McLaughlin, Yvonne Bonner (both 0-2), Katy Herron, Karen Guthrie (f) (both 0-1).

Donegal

1. Róisín McCafferty (Termon)

28. Emer Gallagher (Termon), 3. Evelyn McGinley (Termon), 4. Tanya Kennedy (Robert Emmetts)

5. Shelly Twohig (St Mary’s Convoy), 6. Nicole McLaughlin (Termon), 7. Amy Boyle Carr (Naomh Conaill)

8. Katy Herron (Glenfin), 9. Niamh McLaughlin (Moville — captain)

20. Tara Hegarty (Moville), 11. Niamh Hegarty (Moville), 23. Róisín Rodgers (Naomh Muire)

13. Deirdre Foley (Carndonagh), 15. Geraldine McLaughlin (Termon), 10. Yvonne Bonner (Glenfin).

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Subs

14. Karen Guthrie (Glenfin) for Tara Hegarty (HT)

12. Susanne White (Killybegs) for Róisín Rodgers (55)

Meath

1. Monica McGuirk (Dulleek Bellewstown)

2. Shauna Ennis (Na Fianna — captain), 3. Mary Kate Lynch (Summerhill), 4. Katie Newe (Ratoath)

5. Aoibheann Leahy (Navan O’Mahony’s), 6. Emma Troy (Boardsmill), 7. Aoibhín Cleary (Donaghmore Ashbourne)

8. Máire O’Shaughnessy (Donaghmore Ashbourne), 9. Orlagh Lally (Clann na nGael)

10. Megan Thynne (Dunsany), 11. Emma Duggan (Dunboyne), 12. Kelsey Nesbitt (Simonstown)

13. Vikki Wall (Dunboyne), 14. Stacey Grimes (Seneschalstown), 15. Niamh O’Sullivan (Dunshaughlin Royal Gaels)

Subs

21. Bridgetta Lynch (Oldcastle) for Kelsey Nesbitt (46)

22. Orla Byrne (Duleek Bellewstown) for Meire O’Shaughnessy (52)

29. Emma White (St Patrick’s) for Niamh O’Sullivan (57)

27. Orlaith Duff (Dee Rangers) for Mary Kate Lynch (59, inj)

Referee: Shane Curley (Galway).

About the author:

Emma Duffy  / Reports from Croke Park.

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