McGuirk; The number one number one!

Emma Duggan performed her second smash and grab act in a week  as defending champions Meath advanced to another TG4 All-Ireland SFC final with a thrilling victory over Donegal at Croke Park.

Following her last-gasp point to earn the Royals victory at the expense of Galway last Saturday, the attacking ace kicked three points inside the closing ten minutes to propel her side towards a decider with Kerry on 31 July.

TG4 All Star Geraldine McLaughlin found the target either side of a Stacey Grimes free to give Donegal a slender advantage in a tentative opening.

Although Grimes went on to level matters with her second point, Donegal signalled their intent during the second quarter of a tense affair. A fierce effort by Niamh McLaughlin rattled the woodwork on its way over the bar and the same player despatched a superbly struck penalty after veteran attacker Yvonne Bonner was hauled down in the 19th minute.

Donegal were three points to the good, 1-3 to 0-3, heading in at the interval.

But Meath do what champions do  and after drawing level they moved up a gear despite losing Máire O’Shaughnessy to a yellow card moved three points clear midway through the half.

Donegal finally opened their second-half account with a Yvonne Bonner point in the 43rd minute, however, and midfielder Katie Herron also chipped in with a fine score on the run to set-up a nerve-wracking conclusion.

The sides were back level as a result of Bonner’s second point of the half and with Wall being yellow-carded on the stroke of 50 minutes, all the momentum appeared to be with Donegal. Once again, though, Meath brushed off their numerical deficiency to push forward for another hard-earned victory.

Donegal did have a great chance to score a second goal but Monica McGuirk showed why she is the games top shot stopper not only diving to save a Bonner shot but holding on to the ball as Donegal attackers raced in for a rebound that never came.

It wasn’t a particularly difficult the brilliance was in having the confidence to hold a shot many ‘keepers would have spilled.

After kicking an outstanding point from play, Duggan also knocked over a tricky free to edge them a step closer to another top-tier final. A Karen Guthrie free kept Donegal in touch, but Duggan’s fourth of the day, off a late breakaway move, ensured Meath are still in the hunt for back-to-back titles when they face Kerry in two weeks time.

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

Subs: B Lynch for Nesbitt (47), O Byrne for O’Shaughnessy (53), E White for O’Sullivan (58), O Duff for Lynch (60).

Donegal: R McCafferty; E Gallagher, E McGinley, T Kennedy; S Twohig, Nicole McLaughlin, A Boyle Carr; K Herron, Niamh McLaughlin; Y Bonner, N Hegarty, R Rodgers; D Foley, T Hegarty, G McLaughlin.

Subs: K Guthrie for T Hegarty (30), S White for Rodgers (56).

Referee: Shane Curley (Galway).