By Jackie Cahill at Parnell Park
Donegal 3-17 Westmeath 0-13
Michael Naughton signed himself out of hospital last night to be present for his Donegal side’s promotion party at Parnell Park.
Donegal ran out comfortable 13-point winners against Westmeath in this evening’s Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 2 decider.
Naughton checked out of Letterkenny General Hospital to make the trip to the capital and he’ll be back in early next week for surgery after the celebrations are complete.
Beaten finalists last year, Donegal made no mistake at the second attempt to book a swift return to the top flight, following relegation two years ago.
Their lethal inside line wreaked havoc as Yvonne McMonagle, Geraldine McLaughlin and Amber Barrett racked up 3-12 between them.
McMonagle was the star turn with a 2-5 haul from play, McLaughlin kicked six points, including four frees, and Barrett added 1-2, including a crucial first half goal.
Midfielder Karen Guthrie was another player to excel and goalkeeper Aoife McColgan was brilliant too, pulling off brilliant saves in both halves.
Donegal lost two players in the final ten minutes to yellow cards but finished with a flourish to deny Westmeath.
The new Division 2 champions were well in control, leading by 1-7 to 0-4, at the end of a first half that saw Westmeath register eight wides.
Barrett’s goal in the 18th minute helped to provide the buffer, as the corner forward punched the ball to the net after captain Niamh Hegarty’s long-range free bounced back into play off the crossbar.
Earlier in the half, Donegal had a McMonagle goal disallowed for a square ball, before McLaughlin’s effort was well saved by Westmeath goalkeeper Sarah Keegan soon after.
But it was Keegan’s opposite number McColgan who pulled off the game’s outstanding save, taking a heavy knock for her troubles in the process.
Four minutes before the break, Laura Walsh looked set to tap the ball into an empty net but McColgan took the ball off the Westmeath full-forward’s toe as she prepared to pull the trigger.
Westmeath did start well, a pair of Leona Archibald frees putting them two points clear, but Donegal were back level by the seventh minute.
Karen Hegarty kicked an eighth-minute point for Westmeath but they wouldn’t score again until the final minute of the half.
Donegal took over, hitting 1-5 without reply and that proved a match-winning platform.
During the second half, Donegal were content to keep the scoreboard ticking over and they managed to do so, while McColgan excelled again with a full-length stop to keep out Walsh’s low drive 13 minutes from time.
Donegal had Ciara Hegarty sin-binned with nine and a half minutes left – with Katy Herron following suit five minutes from time - but Naughton’s charges sat deep and broke with maximum impact.
After Westmeath had cut what was once an eleven-point deficit back to seven, Donegal put the game beyond any doubt when McMonagle took a brilliant pass from McLaughlin for a second goal six minutes from the end.
And McMonagle completed her brace with the clock ticking down to put the icing on a sweet-tasting Donegal cake.
Scorers for Donegal: Y McMonagle 2-5, G McLaughlin 0-6 (4f), A Barrett 1-2, K Guthrie 0-3 (1f), K Herron 0-1.
Scorers for Westmeath: L Archibald 0-7f, K Hegarty & L Walsh 0-2 each, F Claffey & C Blundell 0-1 each.
DONEGAL: A McColgan; T Doherty, E Gallagher, K Wilson; T McCafferty, C Hegarty, D Foley; K Herron, K Guthrie; E Ward, N Hegarty, G Houston; A Barrett, Y McMonagle, G McLaughlin.
Subs: K Keeney for Wilson (39), S McGruddy for Foley (48), R Friel for N Hegarty (57), B McLaughlin for G McLaughlin (57).
WESTMEATH: S Keegan; F Coyle, L Brennan, T Durkan; F Claffey, J Rogers, A Martin; M.A. Foley, K McDermott; R O’Connor, L Archibald, J Maher; C Blundell, L Walsh, K Hegarty.
Subs: L McCartan for Maher (inj, 20), C Kelly for O’Connor (h.t.), S McGrath for Coyle (48), A Brady for Durkan (52).
Referee: K Delahunty (Tipperary).