Delight for Donegal as Aaron Doherty sends cup back to the Hills with injury-time winner against Armagh

Armagh fall short again at Croke Park after thrilling comeback in Division Two decider

Donegal’s Ciaran Thompson and Patrick McBrearty accept the Division Two winners' trophy from Jarlath Burns. Picture Mark Marlow
Donegal’s Ciaran Thompson and Patrick McBrearty accept the Division Two winners' trophy from Jarlath Burns. Picture Mark Marlow

Allianz National Football League Division Two final: Donegal 0-15 Armagh 0-14

DELIGHT for Donegal, disappointment for Armagh who once again failed to get over the line in a high stakes showdown.

The game boiled to a frenetic finish after a tit-for-tat first half ended with Donegal a point ahead. The Tir Chonaill men had the better of it for 25 minutes of the second half and looked destined to win before Armagh unleashed their bench strength with subs Stefan Campbell and Rian and Oisin O’Neill all prominent.

With injury-time beckoning the Orchardmen got their noses in front but points from Caolan McGonagle and Oisin Gallen swung the game back Donegal’s way. Oisin Conaty replied for Armagh but Aaron Doherty popped up with the winner three minutes into injury-time.

So near and yet so far for Armagh but when they woke from their second half slumber and ended a 19-minute scoreless drought with a trademark grandstand comeback to recover from four points to take the lead near the death, GAA President Jarlath Burns must have been expecting to present the cup to his native county.

His son Jarly Og had scored Armagh’s first point to equalise after Oisin Gallen – growing in stature as the leader of the Donegal attack – opened the scoring with a mark after 23 seconds.

The Orchardmen looked nervous early on and it was a surprise that they persisted with running the ball rather than testing a young Donegal full-back line with a high ball or two.

It took them seven minutes to register their first score through Burns and Niall O’Donnell sent one over the black spot to edge Donegal ahead again and set the pattern as the teams traded blows for the rest of the half.

Donegal defender Caolan McColgan closes down Conor Turbitt as Armagh go on the attack. Picture Mark Marlow
Donegal defender Caolan McColgan closes down Conor Turbitt as Armagh go on the attack. Picture Mark Marlow

Oisin Conaty broke through the Donegal defence but his shot was blocked by McGonagle – impressive at centre half-back – only for Rory Grugan to chip the ball back into square. Jarly Og Burns was on the end of it but he blazed over the bar instead of under it.

Ciaran Thompson replied for Donegal but Niall O’Donnell had kicked their fourth wide when Conor Turbitt equalised and then sent Armagh ahead for the first time.

The lead didn’t last long. Armagh – turned over too often for their manager’s liking - dropped back into their defensive system inviting Donegal to shoot from distance. Thompson accepted the invitation and levelled it and then Grugan sold Kevin McGettigan a dummy and Armagh led again.

Gallen and Grugan, with one of the best points of his career, swapped scores and Thompson and Conaty did the same but Donegal had the final say in the half.

Peadar Mogan’s jinking run earned him a pocket of space and he capitalised with a neat finish and Thompson ended the tit-for-tat sequence with his fourth of the half to leave the Tir Chonaill men a point ahead (0-8 to 0-7) at the break.

McGonagle slipped in Niall O’Donnell for first point of the second half and, although Turbitt immediately replied for Armagh, Donegal began to pull away.

Ciaran Moore’s surging run created space for Gallen who curled over a brilliant score and, after Campbell had a half-chance at goal, Donegal broke and Shane O’Donnell slotted over to leave three between them.

Andrew Murnin hit the upright for Armagh and debutant Darragh McMullen, given a start ahead of more seasoned campaigners, shot wide three times as the Orchardmen pushed for a way back into the game that threatened to slip away. Switching play with booming kick passes the width of the field, Donegal created the space for Niall O’Donnell’s third point which left four in it and luck wasn’t on Armagh’s side again when Grugan hit the upright with a free and when Rian O’Neill pulled a very scoreable free wide and Shaun Patton saved from Peter McGrane you began to get the impression it wasn’t going to be their day.

However, Armagh love a grandstand finish and they kept the pressure on.

Two Grugan frees halved the deficit and Donegal began to look jittery. Patton took too long over his kickout so the ball was hopped. Rian O’Neill grabbed it and Armagh worked the ball to Turbitt who fisted it over the bar.

At the other end, Donegal had lost their way. Gallen shot wide and Campbell motored down the middle, feinted left, went right and curled over a brilliant score to level it. Ben Crealey caught the kickout one-handed and played in Oisin O’Neill and Orchard fans in the Cusack Stand roared in delight as his shot dropped over the bar and Armagh led with two minutes left.

Injury-time (four minutes) was announced as McGonagle got forward to equalise and, after the kickout fell into grateful Donegal arms, Gallen sent them ahead again.

Armagh’s Conaty showed poise and class to equalise but Donegal are genuine contenders again and when McGonagle broke, Doherty ran into space and made a name for himself with an excellent finish that sent the cup back to The Hills.

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; G McCabe, A Forker, D McMullen; Ciaran Mackin, B Crealey; J Og Burns (0-2), R Grugan (0-4, 0-2 frees), J McElroy; C Turbitt (0-4, 0-2 frees), A Murnin, O Conaty (0-2)

Subs: S Campbell (0-1) for Forker (42), R O’Neill for McElroy (49), O O’Neill (0-1) for McMullen (60), J Duffy for Mackin (69)

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, C Moore, C McColgan; K McGettigan, C McGonagle (0-1), S O’Donnell (0-1); L McGlynn, M Langan; P Mogan (0-1), C Thompson (0-4, 0-1 free), J McGee; A Doherty (0-1), O Gallen (0-4, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark), N O’Donnell (0-3)

Subs: O Caulfield for McGettigan (HT), O Doherty for McGlynn (HT), H McFadden for McGee (42), J Mac Ceallabhui for McColgan (60), C McGuinness for N O’Donnell (61)

Yellow card: Caulfield (44), P Doherty (64)

Referee: P Faloon (Down)