FOOTBALL Previews: Donegal and Meath chase history as Armagh and Kerry eye promotion – LIDL NFL Finals
Compiled by Jackie Cahill (Donegal captain Niamh McLaughlin, Meath captain Shauna Ennis, Armagh captain Kelly Mallon and Kerry captain Anna Galvin pictured at Croke Park. #SeriousSupport Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)
THE 2002 Lidl National League Divisions 1 and 2 champions will be crowned on Sunday – with history in the making for Donegal and Meath at Croke Park.
These two counties will contest the Division 1 decider at 4pm – and both are seeking a maiden Lidl NFL top-flight title win.
In the Division 2 Final, at 2pm, it’s all about promotion for Armagh and Kerry.
Kerry are set to contest a third successive Division 2 decider, with Armagh back in the second-tier showpiece for the first time since 2015.
Sunday April 10
Lidl Ladies NFL Division 2 Final – Result on the Day
Armagh v Kerry; Croke Park, 2pm
PROMOTION is the name of the game for Armagh and Kerry as the two finalists prepare for Sunday’s Lidl National League Division 2 semi-final.
Kerry will be looking to avoid an unwanted hat-trick when they take on the Orchard County, who will look to build on promising recent progress.
Unfortunately, from a Kerry perspective, they’ve suffered defeat in the previous two Division 2 Finals, against Waterford in 2019 at Croke Park, and at the hands of Meath at Croke Park last year.
Division 2 winners in 2013, Kerry have also finished as runners-up in 2001 and 1990.
Armagh, meanwhile, go in search of a third Division 2 title, following previous wins in 2015 and 2005.
Sunday, incidentally, will mark the first time that the counties have met in a competitive Senior fixture since Kerry won by two points in group game during the unfinished Lidl National League in 2020.
En route to the Final, both teams have been in excellent form, and two of the finest forwards in the country have been leading the charge for their respective counties.
Kerry’s Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh is out in front in the Division 2 scoring stakes with a haul of 2-32, while Aimee Mackin has fired 3-21 for Armagh.
These are two clinical attackers who are capable of wreaking havoc on opposition defences and they’ll take close watching.
What may concern Kerry is that Ní Mhuircheartaigh has accounted for over 50 per cent of the team’s scores to date, including 1-9 from 1-14 in the semi-final victory over Monaghan, while Mackin is responsible for almost 32 per cent of Armagh’s total.
Aimee’s sister Bláithín, Aoife McCoy, Catherine Marley, Niamh Reel and Fionnuala McKenna have also shown up well on the scoring front for Armagh, who do appear to have a more potent spread of scorers.
There’s just one certainty ahead of Sunday’s game, however, and that’s the loss of one 100 per cent record.
Kerry have seen off Tipperary, Clare, Laois and Monaghan on their way to a third successive Division 2 Final, while Armagh have accounted for Tyrone, Cavan, Monaghan and Laois.
Armagh’s semi-final win against Laois was certainly a statement of intent, as they ran out 7-19 to 1-9 winners.
And it’s been a much-improved campaign for Ronan Murphy’s charges, who failed to reach the knockout stages last year.
Kerry, with joint-managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long at the helm, will hope it’s a case of third time lucky as they target a return to Division 1.
Armagh (v Kerry): A Carr; S Grey, C McCambridge, G Ferguson; T Grimes, L McConville, C Towe; N Marley, B Mackin; C Marley, F McKenna, N Coleman; A Mackin (capt.), A McCoy, N Reel.
Kerry (v Armagh): C Butler; C O’Brien, K Cronin, J O’Sullivan; A O’Connell, K Lynch, C Murphy; L Scanlon, E Costello; N Carmody, C Evans, A Galvin (capt.); N Ní Chonchúir, E McGlynn, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.
Lidl Ladies NFL Division 1 Final– Result on the Day
Donegal v Meath; Croke Park, 4pm
IT’S fair to say that plenty has changed since Donegal and Meath last met in a Senior competitive fixture.
It was February 2016 in the Lidl National League when Donegal claimed 3-17 to 3-8 victory on their visit to Trim in Division 2.
Looking back on the teams that lined out on that occasion, and comparing them with the recent Lidl NFL semi-finals, Donegal have Nicole McLaughlin, Katy Herron, Karen Guthrie, Yvonne Bonner, Geraldine McLaughlin and Bláthnaid McLaughlin still involved, while Meath had current captain Shauna Ennis, Niamh O’Sullivan, Stacey Grimes, Vikki Wall, Niamh Gallogly in their starting line-up.
There’s been natural flux in both squads since then and while Donegal contested a Division 1 League Final in 2017, Meath have gone on to greater heights.
The Royals won the Division 3 title in 2019 before adding the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate title in 2020.
Last year was one that Meath will never forget, as they claimed both the Lidl NFL Division 2 and TG4 All-Ireland senior crowns.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Eamonn Murray’s charges, who remain hungry and keen to prove that 2021 wasn’t a flash in the pan.
En route to Sunday’s Final, they’ve suffered just one defeat, by a single point against Dublin in a front of a bumper Páirc Tailteann attendance.
Both teams had already progressed to the knockout stages before that round fixture, and Meath got back to winning ways in the Lidl NFL Division 1 semi-final with victory over Mayo.
Stacey Grimes (0-14), Emma Duggan (1-10) and Orlagh Lally (2-14) have led the scoring charge to date, with Donegal looking to the tried and trusted Karen Guthrie (2-13), TG4 All Star Geraldine McLaughlin (0-10) and Yvonne Bonner (1-4) for attacking inspiration.
Donegal have lost just the one game en route to the Final also, against Mayo in a Round 3 fixture when both teams had already progressed to the last four.
Donegal, managed by Maxi Curran, looked down and out in their recent semi-final against Dublin but two quickfire goals in the closing stages turned the game on its head.
That win sent Donegal through to a first Division 1 decider since they lost to Cork five years ago, while Meath will contest their first top-flight Final since suffering defeat to Cork back in 2006.
So, it’s very much a case of history beckoning for Donegal and Meath, with the winners set to sample that Division 1 title-winning feeling for the very first time.
In team news, Meath have named Orlaith Duff in their starting line-up, with Kelsey Nesbitt dropping to the bench, while Donegal bring in Amy Boyle Carr in place of Shauna McFadden.
Donegal (v Meath): R McCafferty; N Carr, E McGinley, N Boyle; T Hegarty, Nicole McLaughlin, A Boyle Carr; K Herron, R Rodgers; B McLaughlin, Niamh McLaughlin (capt.), S Twohig; Y Bonner, K Guthrie, G McLaughlin.
Meath (v Donegal): M McGuirk; K Newe, M.K. Lynch, O Duff; S Ennis (capt.), E Troy, A Cleary; M O’Shaughnessy, O Lally; M Thynne, A Leahy, E Duggan; V Wall, S Grimes, N O’Sullivan.