ST SYLVESTER’S starlet Nicole Owens struck a hat-trick for the third successive game for the Dublin Under-21 ladies footballers as they landed the Aisling McGing All-Ireland title in breathtaking fashion.
Owens struck three majors in the 6-9 to 1-8 win over Meath to go with a trio against Cork in the semi-final and against Tyrone in the group stages, making it an incredible nine goals in three games.
One of the efforts against Meath was a delightfully lobbed effort and could give her a chance at forcing her way into the Dublin senior starting line-up for their Leinster championship opener against Kildare next weekend in Johnstownbridge.
She and player of the match Clann Mhuire’s Carla Rowe have been part of the senior set-up during their run to the national league final while Fingallians’ Niamh Rickard also chipped in with a goal in the Under-21 final to give manager Gregory McGonigle – manager of both teams – plenty to ponder.
Speaking to GazetteSport, McGonigle said that the Under-21s has provided a great platform for players to stake a claim for a senior championship place.
“Carla has been involved and Nicole has played bits and pieces [with the seniors],” he said. “With Nicole, she’s now scored nine goals in her last three games so she hasn’t done herself any harm whatsoever.
“The main thing for us is to develop senior footballers out of this Under-21 panel and hopefully to make the senior side in the future years.
“After this year’s performance, with very decent victories over the likes of Tyrone, Cork in the semi-finals and Meath in the final, it shows we’re going in the right direction and there’s definitely an abundance of young talent coming through in Dublin.
“From a senior’s point of view, it is great for competition within the panel ahead of the championship kicking off this week.”
Asked whether the emphatic manner of the victories was, perhaps, too easy, McGonigle said that it shows the level of improvement Dublin have made in the past three years since minor level.
“If you look back to 2011 with this year’s squad were minor, Dublin scraped by Meath in the Leinster final and lost to Cork. Ok, you have three years of minor teams coming through but Dublin have definitely developed.
“Ideally, you would like more competitive games – and the Meath game was tough even though the scoreline maybe didn’t reflect it. But from a management and a team point of view, we just keep setting our targets to try and reach both in training and in games. If we reach the targets, irrespective of who we play, we have to be happy.”
With a couple of players likely to miss the Kildare game through injury – Sinead Goldrick and Siobhan McGrath are major doubts – McGonigle says that there is an opportunity for a couple of the Under-21 stars to step into the breach.
“That’s the chance for someone else to step up and shine. We know Kildare will be a tough team to break down; the pitch in Johnstownbridge is not the biggest for our game. But we will set out targets for our performance and if we look after that, it will look after the result.”