Armagh and Donegal share lukewarm offerings

Chances spurned on both ends as Donegal come away happier in light of what’s left to come on their respective fixture lists

Andy Murnin and Michael Langan compete for a kickout during Armagh's draw with Donegal. Picture: John Merry
Andy Murnin and Michael Langan compete for a kickout during Armagh's draw with Donegal. Picture: John Merry

Allianz Football League Division One: Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12

ON what felt like an all-duck kinda day, Armagh and Donegal ended up sharing a bit of a microwave dinner.

All the ingredients were there. Beautiful sunshine, a relatively calm February breeze, two teams edging towards their championship XVs and knowing that two points here would almost certainly bequeath a place back in the top-flight next year.

But it was lukewarm stuff they served up in front of a typically early and fervent crowd of 11,252 that began queueing for an hour before the gates opened, as is the way now in the Cathedral City.

Donegal perhaps left feeling that little bit more satisfied in the context of what a point means to them.

That’s down largely to having already beaten third-in-line Cavan and having a fixture list that offers home advantage for two of their last three, against Louth and Meath, with a trip to badly struggling Kildare in between.

Anything bar promotion for Donegal from here and it will feel like they’ve dropped the ball.

Armagh’s task is tougher and their lost point feels potentially more precious. They’ll be expected to win their away games against Fermanagh and Cork, and having home advantage against Cavan could be pivotal. As such, they’re the ones with no room to breathe in the race as it heads for the bend.

You could have argued solid cases for both teams having won the game, which says a draw was fair enough.

Shane O’Donnell having a goal chance blocked by Conor Turbitt, hitting the top post with another and then Oisin Gallen having a penalty saved late on are the primary markers in Donegal’s argument.

But from Andy Murnin burst through to fist Armagh into a 1-8 to 0-10 lead with 59 minutes gone, Kieran McGeeney’s side were never behind again.

On the weekend that his watching father became GAA President, Jarly Óg Burns had the last chance to snatch victory but his hesitant fisted effort fell short into Shaun Patton’s arms.

All of the early season attention that has fallen on Donegal has centred largely on their high press but there was very little of it visible here.

With Caolan McGonagle sitting as a permanent and effective shield, they dropped off a lot deeper. The fact that Blaine Hughes was getting his kickouts away so effectively undermined the visitors’ attempts and so they naturally fell very far back.

Armagh did as Armagh do and looked to kick the ball as much as possible. When the kick is right, they have ball-winners to match any team in Ireland, not least Andy Murnin.

His ability to read the flight of a ball is unmatched. He doesn’t need the helping hand given to him by the misjudgement of Stephen McMenamin, who came forward two steps too many to meet Rory Grugan’s floated delivery and got caught beneath it. Murnin’s mind had the ball in the net long before his right foot did.

After 18 minutes in which Armagh had marginally been second best, that pushed them 1-2 to 0-3. The home side had the better of the game from there until half-time and yet found their interval lead reduced to one. It was that sort of day where things just didn’t really make any sense.

What was notable in that second quarter was Patrick McBrearty’s willingness to get into the lifejacket. He almost looked angry towards the end of the half as he barged his way into scoreable positions in a way that we haven’t always seen in recent years.

He hit a real captain’s score two minutes before half-time, demanding the ball when his side were three down. He had another go in stoppage time that fell short and resulted in Ciaran Thompson drilling over the loose ball to leave it 1-5 to 0-7.

Conor O’Neill had kicked two lovely scores for Armagh, with Paddy Burns dominating the early portion of his battle against Oisin Gallen until the MacCumhaills man started to cleverly find pockets in the second half where they manufactured a couple of handy marks for him.

His late penalty was well-read and saved by Blaine Hughes, admittedly at a nice height, after Michael Langan had been fouled by Jarly Óg Burns when Jamie Brennan’s shot came down off the post.

“We found ourselves in a bad situation as well where we had to respond and get an equalising point as well,” opined Jim McGuinness afterward.

“My own assessment would be that it was a great game for us and for Armagh as well. We know a bit more about our own lads.

“It was a tough battle where pressure situations came to bear on both teams in different periods. Plenty of learnings in the game and at least we’re not going down the road beat.”

Armagh didn’t win but after a 2023 pockmarked by losing tight games, they’ve squeezed a victory over Louth and taken Sunday’s draw from their two photo-finishes so far in ‘24.

“Last year that was the disappointing thing. The only team that beat us by more than a point was Tyrone,” said Kieran McGeeney.

“We were always in the game so we knew we weren’t doing a whole pile wrong. We were the wrong side of the one point so we were coming down the home stretch and again today a wee bit better.

“A first pass from ten metres out, we should be putting those over and Jarly knows that himself. They’ll feel they should be putting penalties away too.”

Nothing lost on either side, but it’s Armagh who will be more worried about how the single point rather than two comes to be viewed in hindsight.


Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; G McCabe, A Forker (0-1), C O’Neill (0-2); Connaire Mackin, Ciaran Mackin; J McElroy (0-1), R Grugan (0-2), O Conaty (0-1); C McConville, A Murnin (1-1), C Turbitt

Subs: J Duffy for McConville (HT), J Óg Burns for Connaire Mackin (42), R O’Neill (0-1) for Forker (45), S Campbell for Turbitt (51), J Hall for C O’Neill (66)

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, B McCole, S McMenamin; R McHugh, C McGonagle, D Ó Baoill; H McFadden, M Langan (0-1); P Mogan (0-1), C Thompson (0-1), O Doherty, C Moore; P McBrearty (0-4, 0-2 frees), O Gallen (0-4, 0-2 marks, 0-2 frees)

Subs: S O’Donnell (0-1) for McFadden (41), J Brennan for Ó Baoill (53)

Referee: N Mooney (Cavan)

Attendance: 11,252