Donegal defend Ulster crown with crushing victory over Armagh
TG4 Ulster Ladies' Senior Football Championship final
Donegal 9-21 Armagh 4-8
CHAMPIONS Donegal were unstoppable as they eased to a third Ulster senior crown in four years and back-to-back titles with victory over Armagh in Brewster Park on Sunday.
The scoreline shocked everyone, not least Donegal joint-manager Maxi Curran, with the game anticipated to be a much tighter affair.
And, for the first 20 or so minutes, it was a closely fought encounter but a strong finish to the first half set Donegal up nicely and they powered to a 28-point victory.
“We are very surprised. We never envisaged the winning margin but we are happy to get over the line. I think it is a very unrealistic scoreline and it will have people reading into it all incorrectly I feel, but we did what we had to do and we are happy to get over the line,” said Curran.
With star forwards on both sides, it was going to come down to which side could contain their opponents the best.
Donegal kept Aimee Mackin very quiet, her 1-2 all coming from placed balls while, at the other end, there was just no stopping any of the Donegal forwards.
The inside-forward line of Yvonne Bonner, Geraldine McLaughlin and Eilish Ward combined for 7-11, with Bonner hitting 3-6 and McLaughlin fi nishing with 3-4.
Only one point in the their entire 9-21 came from a free.
All six Donegal forwards got on the scoresheet, as did their two midfielders Katy Herron and Aoife McDonnell.
Armagh will be disappointed to lose this final, their first in four years, by such a margin knowing they did not perform to their potential but no doubt managers Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney will sit down with them in the coming days and regroup as they embark on the All-Ireland series.
It was end-to-end action in the first half, but it was Donegal who went in at the break 4-13 to 2-7 ahead with a blistering final 10 minutes of the half seeing the defending champions outscore their opponents 3-6 to 0-3 after Armagh had got themselves right back into the game, level 2-4 to 1-7.
Before that, Donegal had opened up a 1-6 to 0-3 lead after the first quarter with some impressive play.
Full-forward Yvonne Bonner scored 1-4 of that opening 1-6, with a fourth minute goal coming after she had opened her side’s account with a point a minute earlier to cancel out Aimee Mackin’s fi rst minute point from a free.
McLaughlin and Caroline O’Hanlon traded points followed by an exchange between Aoife McCoy and Bonner as Donegal looked dangerous on the attack.
They lost wing half-back Therese McCafferty to the sin bin in the 10th minute after a high challenge on Mairead Tennyson but seemed to deal well with the numerical disadvantage as Bonner sent over a right-footed point and Herron added her first score after another turnover.
However, a mistake from Donegal goalkeeper Roisin McCafferty, who was caught out of position well outfi eld when the ball was turned over, saw Kelly Mallon coolly slot home into an empty net in the 18th minute.
When Mackin fired home from the penalty spot three minutes later after Mallon had been fouled under a high catch, the sides were level, 2-4 to 1-7.
Spurred into life, Donegal were rampant with McLaughlin sending over an important point in the 22nd minute to steady the ship and the Termon star fi nding the back of the net in the very next move after a quick sideline ball to make it 2-8 to 2-4.
Suddenly Donegal were back in the clear.
The sides exchanged points and with just four between them with the game entering injury-time Donegal struck for those two crucial goals – first with Ward fi ring home and then Niamh Hegarty reacting quickly to a Bonner effort that came back off the post.
With their lead stretched to 10, Sarah Jane McDonald and Herron added two more points to give them a 4-13 to 2-7 half-time lead.
They started the second half strongly too and hit 1-4 without reply – Karen Guthrie with a goal in the 34th minute.
O’Hanlon finally got Armagh going again with a point in the 44th minute and they had a chance to close the gap further only for Mackin’s spot kick in the 47th minute to be well saved by McCafferty.
At the other end, Donegal punished Armagh as Bonner scored her second goal a minute later.
An O’Hanlon penalty in the 60th minute brought Armagh’s tally to 3-8 but by then Donegal, through McLaughlin, had added a seventh goal.
Donegal were down to 14 when Gallagher was sent to the sin bin for as a result of that penalty decision and they finished with 12 players when McLaughlin, who completed her own hat-trick in the 63rd minute, was also sin binned late on along with Herron in two separate incidents either side of Blaithin Mackin’s goal for Armagh six minutes into injury time and Bonner’s third, and Donegal’s ninth, major of the day with the last score of the game.
Curran was full of praise for his forwards.
“I think we defended poorly all day long and we hadn’t a great day at the back,’’ he said.
‘‘They caused us lots of bother and that is without Aimee Mackin really hitting top gear, but you can’t have it every way, be moving well up front and have a solid defence,” he admitted. “We are just happy our forward line kicked into gear today and got the scores.
‘‘They are working very hard and it’s not just being handed to them on a plate. They are battling and wining their own ball and this thing of the lazy forward that would have been attached to some of them in the past has gone. “I know it’s a cliche but it’s a team effort but I think that result was built on our industry in the middle third and how hard we worked when Armagh did have the ball and we put them under a lot of pressure.”