By Shaun Casey
LAST year’s Division One league finalists Donegal travel west this weekend to take on Galway in the opening round of the National League. Maxi Curran’s side went all the way to the decider in 2022 but lost out to back-to-back All-Ireland champions Meath by two points.
Donegal prevailed when they met Galway last season, edging through with three points to spare in the end, 0-10 to 0-7. The Tir Chonaill ladies will aim to go one step further this season and experience another couple of big days out in Croke Park.
They’ll look to the likes of Player of the Year Niamh McLaughlin and sharpshooter Geraldine McLaughlin to inspire them. Donegal are the only Ulster team plying their trade in the top tier at the minute and Division Two will fire up a few more local derbies.
Armagh, last year’s beaten Division Two league finalists, are the front-runners for promotion following an exciting couple of years in the All-Ireland series. The Orchard ladies were on the verge of going up in 2022, but a late Kerry goal in the showpiece dashed their dreams.
They kick off their 2023 campaign away to Cavan and promotion to the topflight will once again be a huge target. The three-in-a-row Ulster champions are under new management this season, with former Kildare goalkeeper Shane McCormack, who was involved in the management team under Ronan Murphy, taking over.
AFLW recruit Blaithin Mackin will be available, and Armagh will hope All-Star Aimee Mackin can have another good season. Goals from Aimee Mackin and Lauren McConville were the decisive scores last season when these sides met in round two of the league, with Armagh winning 2-13 to 0-6.
The Breffni Blues just done enough to survive relegation in 2022, beating Tyrone, who ultimately remained in the division thanks to a playoff victory over Clare. Goals from Niamh Hughes, Chloe McCaffrey and Grainne Rafferty made all the difference as the Red Hands eased to a comfortable 3-17 to 1-15 triumph.
Monaghan are the fourth Ulster team competing in Division Two and they’ve been tasked with a difficult trip to Laois to open their account. A draw with Tyrone and win over Cavan amounted enough points to hold off any fears of relegation last season, although the Farney County were demoted from Senior to Intermediate for the All-Ireland series.
Laois reached the last four of the league campaign in 2022 but lost out to Armagh by a huge 27-points in the semi-final. Monaghan look to be in a period of transition, so securing their spot in Division Two will be the ultimate objective.
Down get their promotion push from Division Three underway on Sunday with an away day trip to Kildare. The Mourne ladies lost out to Wexford in last year’s league semi-final, with eight the difference in the end.
In Division Four, Derry kickstart their 2023 season with a trip to Leitrim, who overcame the Oak Leaf County last year on their way to reaching the semi-finals.