Curran rues missed chances as Donegal come agonisingly close to place in All-Ireland decider

Emma Troy of Meath in action against Yvonne Bonner of Donegal during the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship semi-final match at Croke Park Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final: Meath (holders) 0-12 Donegal 1-7

DONEGAL fell agonisingly short to Meath once again as they bowed out of this year's TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship after a pulsating semi-final in Croke Park on Saturday.

A period of Meath dominance right at the start of the second half that saw them hit six points without reply was the undoing of Maxi Curran's side. After going in at the break three points up, 1-3 to 0-3, they found themselves three points behind within 10 minutes. They did get back on level terms with 11 minutes remaining but the next crucial score went the way of Meath and the superb Emma Duggan, whose three points in the final eight minutes were enough to end Donegal's challenge.

The Donegal boss said they did not take advantage of their first half dominance.

“We thought we had a great chance of winning today and we would put it up to Meath and we thought we had enough to try and get over the line but it wasn't to be,” said Curran.

“I think we went for goals a couple of times and were points were on and that would have made a difference. That would have left ourselves five or six up at half-time easily. They got a massive score just before half-time that brought it back to three and it was a signal of intent for what was going to happen in the second half.”

The Ulster side dominated the first half and although they led by captain Niamh McLaughlin's goal from the penalty spot at the break they really should have been further ahead, their cause not helped by three efforts that came back off the posts.

The champions set up defensively as expected with all 15 behind the ball, their intentions to overturn Donegal and break up the field at speed. However, Donegal were more than a match for them in the first half, their patience, ball retention and ability to pick through a packed defence impressive.

Geraldine McLaughlin opened the scoring immediately with a point for Donegal but a Stacey Grimes free levelled the game before McLaughlin was on target again in the fourth minute with another point after

some good work from her team-mates to turn the Meath over.

The next score did not come until the 16th minute when Grimes brought Meath level but not before Donegal had hit the post twice, first from Amy Boyle Carr and then McLaughlin while Yvonne Bonner had a goal chance that was quickly smothered by the Meath defence.

Niamh McLaughlin edged Donegal back in front in the 18th minute, her effort shaving the crossbar and going over for a point - a shot that could easily have dipped in under Monica McGuirk's crossbar.

Just a minute later Donegal penetrated the Meath defence again and this time Bonner was fouled and the Ulster side awarded a penalty that was expertly dispatched by their captain to open up a 1-3 to 0-2 lead.

Bonner hit the woodwork as another chance to extend their lead passed and with a minute of the first half remaining, Meath midfielder Orlagh Lally popped up with a crucial score to leave three between.

Meath emerged a different animal in the second half. Where they were happy to give Donegal possession from their own kickout in the first half, they pushed right up making it very difficult for goalkeeper Roisin McCafferty to pick out her own players.

Vikki Wall, Niamh O'Sullivan and Duggan had Meath on level terms, 0-6 to 1-3, after less than three minutes of the restart and within that period there was also a sin bin for the champions, midfielder Marie O'Shaughnessy yellow carded for a high tackle on Niamh McLaughlin.

Despite the extra player, Donegal were unable to take advantage and instead it was Meath who pushed on, moving three clear and into the lead for the fist time, thanks to a trio of frees from Grimes.

Bonner finally got Donegal off the mark in the second half on 43 minutes and that was followed up with a point from Katy Herron before Bonner levelled the game for the four time, 1-6 to 0-9.

When Meath lost Wall to the sin bin in the 50th minute and with Donegal having scored three in-a-row, it seemed like they were back in the ascendancy, but instead it was the Royals who grabbed the next score through Duggan. The Tir Chonaill girls had chances, just before Duggan's point, Bonner had a chance that was cleared by McGuirk while half-time substitute Karen Guthrie, after a superb catch, shot straight at the Meath netminder.

A Duggan free put Meath two in front but Guthrie followed suit and made it a one point game with two minutes remaining. As Donegal went in search of the equaliser, Meath soaked up the pressure magnificently and it was left to Duggan for the second week running to wrap up the win and send the champions into back-to-back finals, their opponents this time Kerry.

Having come through a tight quarter-final against Galway, Meath manager Eamonn Murray was glad to see his side dig deep to reach another All-Ireland decider.

“That's two weeks in a row. And this time last year we were six points down against Cork and we came back. Today was another nail-biter," he said.

“When we lost Máire O'Shaughnessy we put six points up on the board. It's unbelievable. That's our best football that we played all year.”

Meath: M McGuirk; S Ennis, MK Lynch, K Newe; A Leahy, E Troy, A Cleary; M O'Shaughnessy, O Lally (0-1); M Thynne, E Duggan (0-4, 0-1 frees), K Nesbitt; V Wall (0-1), S Grimes (0-5, 0-4 frees), N O'Sullivan (0-1).

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 (0-1), Niamh McLaughlin (1-1, 1-0 pen); Y Bonner (0-2), N Hegarty, R Rodgers; D Foley, T Hegarty, G McLaughlin (0-2)

Subs: K Guthrie (0-1 frees) for T Hegarty (30), S White for Rodgers (56).

Referee: Shane Curley (Galway).