By Cliona Foley
Dublin will play Mayo in the TG4 All-Ireland ladies SFC semi-finals but only after surviving a tough test from Donegal, when their usually well-oiled scoring machine badly misfired.
“We missed a lot, even from frees, but the girls’ character eventually came through,” said Dubs’ manager Greg McGonigle after watching his side struggle to penetrate Donegal’s blanket defence in Longford on Saturday.
“Donegal set up in a way that’s very hard to break down, very similar to their men,” he added. Dublin trailed by two at halftime and saw their four-point lead cut to a point with just four minute left.
But this was the tough examination they probably needed after cruising to their fifth Leinster title in-a-row this summer.
“Mayo had a very tough game against Westmeath too and that will bring both teams on, we both obviously have a lot to work on,” McGonigle said.
Defenders Olwen Carey, Sinead Goldrick and Sinead Finnegan, topscorer Sinead Aherne (1-6, 3f) Carla Rowe and super-sub Siobhan Woods were key to their survival and Muireann Ni Scanaill noticeably returned from a long injury layoff to make a vital late goalmouth intervention.
Dublin shot almost 10 wides in both halves and trailed 0- 5 to 1-4 to 0- 5 at half-time after being rocked by Yvonne McGonagle’s 21st minute goal.
But an inspirational Niamh McEvoy point and Aherne’s third quarter goal put them four points clear before Donegal’s ‘secret weapon’ struck.
Geraldine McLaughlin, only recently returned from America, was sprung from the bench at half-time and threw her side a life-line with a 55th minute goal but vital scores from Rowe and Aherne (free) then settled Dublin again.
“We put Dublin under wild pressure, asked big questions of them and probably just one mistake in defence cost us,” said Donegal boss Michael Naughton, whose side were bidding to reach their first ever senior semi-final.
“When we got the goal back we were right in it and, unlucky, I thought, with a few decisions afterwards, like one against Geraldine for over-carrying but, overall, it was a great team effort, we’ve no regrets,” he added.