U-21 All-Ireland heroes

by Stephen Findlater
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 stephen findlater
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DUBLIN ladies football manager Gregory McGonigle says that opportunity is knocking for a number of his Under-21 players following their incredible run to the Aisling McGing title last weekend in Clane with a 6-9 to 1-8 win over Meath in the All-Ireland final.
Nicole Owens’ hat-trick – her third trio of goals in successive games – along with the performances of the emerging Carla Rowe, midfield pair Molly Lamb and Sarah McCaffrey and the entire defensive unit drew the manager’s praise.
McGonigle, who oversees both the senior and Under-21 sides, says the Under-21s has provided a great platform for players to stake a claim for a senior championship place, as their Leinster campaign begins against Kildare next week.
With Dublin skipper Sinead Goldrick from Foxrock Cabinteely among a couple of major injury doubts for that tie along with Siobhan McGrath, McGonigle says that there are likely to be a few places open to fight for.
“The main thing for us is to develop senior footballers out of this Under-21 panel and, hopefully, to graduate to the senior side in the future years,” he told GazetteSport.
“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.”
Owens 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 and has given McGonigle plenty to ponder.
“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 midfield pairing of Molly Lamb and Sarah McCaffrey – with Molly only coming up from minor last year – have developed over the course of the Under-21 championship and gained confidence,” he said. “Defensively, we have options with any of our back six that played last Sunday having a decent chance playing last Sunday.”
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. Okay, 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.
“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.”

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