NIAMH HEGARTY HAS been confirmed as the Donegal ladies captain for the season ahead, with the team in competitive action for the first time in 2016 tomorrow.
The Moville woman was named as the 2015 Donegal Ladies Footballer of the Year in December at the Annual Banquet and takes the mantle from Katie Herron.
Last year, under the management of Davy McLaughlin, Donegal won the Ulster SFC for the first time before losing out narrowly to Armagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Picture caption: Niamh Hegarty receives her award from Ulster Council President, Martin McAviney in December at the Donegal GAA annual banquet. Photo by Geraldine Diver
Tomorrow, Donegal take on Westmeath at St Loman’s, Mullingar, in their opening fixture of the Lidl Ladies Football League Division 2. Amid the hysteria of 2014, Donegal went through the regulation season unbeaten, only to lose the promotion play-off against Armagh at Parnell Park.
McLaughlin has moved on and Michael Naughton is back in charge. The Castleconnor, Co Sligo native will look to pick up exactly where he left off when he concluded his two-year tenure in 2010 by guiding Donegal to the All-Ireland IFC crown at Croke Park when they defeated Waterford by 2-12 to 0-16.
That same year, Donegal were also Ulster IFC winner and, maybe more tellingly for now, champions of what was then the Bord Gáis Energy National League Division 2.
The Donegal ladies celebrate their first ever Ulster SFC title, which they sealed by virtue of victory over Monaghan in Clones last July
As January turns to February and the chill of winter rolls into spring, the bread and butter is the immediate priority for the returning manager.
“You set yourself goals all the time and out first goal is to try and get back into Division 1,” Naughton told Donegal Sport Hub.
“So, in that respect, it’s a matter of taking each game as it comes and we’re only looking at Westmeah. Last year, they almost beat Armagh, only to lose late on.”
That contest that Naughton made reference to was the one where Armagh booked their tickets to a quarter-final with Donegal. The Orchard County were eventual 1-12 to 0-9 winners at Breffni Park but three-quarters the way through everything was up in the air with the sides level.
Last year, Donegal had a convincing victory over Westmeath in Clones on Sunday, winning by 3-10 to Westmeath’s 1-4 in the league semi-final having also won the regulation game 6-13 to 0-10 in Carndonagh.
There has been a change in the landscape in recent times and since Naughton’s departure, although mainly for the better. As well as the county side’s progress last season there’s a huge chunk of experience in the panel from Termon, who won the All-Ireland club championship in 2014.
Laura Gallagher, Nicole McLaughlin, Therese McCafferty, Emer Gallagher, Shannon McGroddy and Roisin Friel are named in the 2016 panel alongside Geraldine McLaughlin.
Aside that, from last year’s panel Yvonne McMonagle from Glenfin will be back on board, although Naomh Conaill’s Aoife McDonnell has gone back to Australia. Karen Guthrie, who has also captained the county, is recovering from a knee injury but is said to be doing well.
“We’d expect to have Karen back within a month,” Naughton said. “She’s making a good recovery but there’s good experience in the squad after last year and with Termon’s successes in recent years. The girls were disappointed to lose to Armagh last year but it’s a new year now. Westmeath is all we’re looking at for now.”
Donegal 2016 panel: Laura Gallagher Termon, Nicole McLaughlin Termon, Teresa McCafferty Termon,
Emer Gallagher Termon, Kaneshia McKinney St Eunans, Ciara Hegerty Moville, Deirdre Foley Carndonagh, Katie Herron Glenfin, Kate Keeney Four Masters, Teresa Doherty Carndonagh, Niamh Hegerty Moville, Grainne Houston Glenfin, Blathaid McLaughlin Moville, Yvonne McMonagle Glenfin, Shannon McGroddy Termon, Ciara Gallagher Convoy, Amber Barrett Milford, Eilish Ward St Naul’s, Geraldine McLaughlin Termon, Roisin Friel Termon, Emma McGroary Robert Emmets, Niamh McLaughlin Moville, Kelly Wilson Convoy, Karen Gutherie Glenfin, Emer Bradley St Eunans, Erika Hanna Naomh Mhuire, Roisin Curran Cloughaneely, Aisling Cunningham Killybegs, Gemma Glackin Glenfin, Evelyn McGinley Cloughaneely, Niamh Carr Milford, Sarah Patton Aodh Ruadh, Carol Breslin Ardara, Paula McGroary Buncrana, Jade O’Donnell Niamh Muire, Sinead Hession St Eunans.
Backroom team: Manager: Michael Naughton, Mentors: Sean O’Kane and Hugh Devenney, Backroom Team Sabrina Barnett, Muriel Kelly and Noel O’Kane, Physio: Sarah Herron.
Fixtures: Sunday, January 31, Westmeath (away); Sunday, February 7, Laois (home); Sunday, February 14, Sligo (away); Sunday, February 28, Meath (away), Sunday, March 6, Clare (home); Sunday, April 3, Kildare (away), Sunday, April 10, Cavan (home).