FOOTBALL: Meath 2-8 Donegal 1-9 (Lidl NFL Division 1 Final)

FOOTBALL: Meath 2-8 Donegal 1-9 (Lidl NFL Division 1 Final)

By DAIRE WALSH (Meath players and backroom team celebrate after their side’s victory. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile)

Niamh O’Sullivan scored the crucial goal and the TG4 All-Ireland Senior champions Meath added another title to their growing list of honours, as they overcame Donegal to win their first Lidl National Football League Division 1 crown.

Kelsey Nesbitt scored the other Meath goal while the Leinster outfit were able to add a top-tier success to the Division 2 and Division 3 victories they secured in 2021 and 2019.

Donegal were also searching for a maiden Division 1 final success and while Geraldine McLaughlin (0-4) and Karen Guthrie (0-3) did their best for the cause, they fell just short in the finish.

Appearing in Croke Park for the first time since last September’s historic Brendan Martin Cup triumph, Meath hit the ground running with points from Stacey Grimes and O’Sullivan. Donegal subsequently opened their account through Geraldine McLaughlin’s seventh-minute free, but unanswered efforts courtesy of Emma Duggan (two) and Nesbitt gave Eamonn Murray’s Royals a four-point advantage.

Karen Guthrie’s strike did cut deficit just ahead of the first half water break, but Meath re-established their supremacy when the action resumed.

At the end of a thundering run through the heart of the Donegal defence, TG4 Players’ Player of the Year Vikki Wall, released Nesbitt for a calm finish past Roisín McCafferty. Meath stretched out their lead with an Orlagh Lally point, before the Donegal challenge finally came to life.

Supplementing points by Yvonne Bonner, Guthrie and Geraldine McLaughlin, team captain Niamh McLaughlin brilliantly dispatched a 27th minute penalty to leave the Ulster side a single point adrift, 1-6 to 1-5, at half-time.

Meath defender Mary Kate Lynch was sin-binned for fouling Bonner in the lead-up to the penalty and prior to her introduction, Donegal has squeezed in front with back-to-back points from Guthrie and Geraldine McLaughlin.

Being restored to their full complement proved crucial for the Royals, however, and the evergreen O’Sullivan followed up a Lally equaliser by firing home Meath’s second goal while on the turn and off balance, on 41 minutes.

A sublime Guthrie point brought the gap back down to two, 2-7 to 1-8, on the third-quarter mark and the bare minimum separated the two teams when Geraldine McLaughlin found the range with eight minutes remaining.

However, Wall, who was yellow carded in the final minute, capped another inspirational display with an excellent point and that helped to guide Meath over the line.

Scorers – Meath: K Nesbitt 1-1, N O’Sullivan 1-1, E Duggan 0-2 (0-1f), O Lally 0-2, V Wall 0-1, S Grimes 0-1.

Donegal: G McLaughlin 0-4 (0-1f), N McLaughlin 1-0 (1-0 pen), K Guthrie 0-3 (0-2f), Y Bonner 0-2.

MEATH: M McGuirk; K Newe, MK Lynch, S Ennis; A Leahy, E Troy, A Cleary; M O’Shaughnessy, V Wall; M Thynne, O Lally, K Nesbitt; N O’Sullivan, E Duggan, S Grimes.

Subs: B Lynch for Nesbitt (39), N Gallogly for Leahy (52), E White for Thynne (52), O Byrne for Lally (56), O Duff for O’Sullivan (60).

DONEGAL: R McCafferty; N Carr, E McGinley, N Boyle; T Hegarty, Nicole McLaughlin, A Boyle Carr; K Herron, R Rodgers; B McLaughlin, Niamh McLaughlin, S Twohig; Y Bonner, K Guthrie, G McLaughlin.

Subs: N Hegarty for T Hegarty (41), T Kennedy for Boyle (49), E McCrory for Twohig (56).

Referee: Garryowen McMahon (Mayo).


“I’d never worry about momentum with this bunch,” said Meath manager Eamonn Murray.

“They always have something left in them. There’s always a different hero every day. It was someone else’s turn today to stand up.

“If you knew this bunch of girls, you could give them 50 sprints to do and they’ll ask for 50. They’re still young, so they won’t burn out. There’s no problem, they’d train seven nights a week if you asked them.

“They are a very close bunch, they’ll enjoy tonight and probably tomorrow but after that it will be back to training.”

“We have the potential to cut teams open when it happens, it probably just happens a little too infrequently,” said Donegal manager Maxi Curran.

“There was a period there, probably ten minutes before and after half-time, where we were in a really good place and going well. That’s the time we should have tagged on a couple of more scores.

“We had a chance when we were a point up, to go four up. That would have made the thing very interesting, but it wasn’t to be.

“Hats off to the girls for a serious effort, they put a massive shift in. They never stopped trying towards the end. They’re to be commended for that.”

Niamh McLaughlin of Donegal is presented with the Player of the Match by Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland director of communications Aoife Clarke. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile