Ulster final against Armagh too close to call admits Donegal skipper Paddy McBrearty

Single point separated Ulster finalists Donegal and Armagh over two clashes in the National League

Donegal captain Patrick McBrearty roars away from the net to celebrate a goal against of Cork during the National Football League Div 2 match played at Ballybofey on Sunday 28th January 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal captain Paddy McBrearty celebrates his goal against of Cork in Ballybofey this season. Picture Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

HAVING dethroned reigning champions Derry and battled back to see off Tyrone, some see Donegal as (slight) favourites for Sunday’s Ulster Championship final.

But since a single point separates the counties over two previous games this year, Tir Chonaill skipper Paddy McBrearty isn’t having any of that.

“You may ask the bookies,” he replies when asked if Donegal should be favourites for the Anglo-Celt decider.

“Sure we drew with them in the Athletic Grounds and only beat them by a point in Croke Park (Division Two final) so we are definitely not underestimating Armagh.

“We know them well enough and they know us so it would be foolish of us to underestimate them.”

Given that this year’s meetings have been so close – a draw in round four of the League and then a one-point win for Donegal in the Division Two final – you couldn’t rule out another penalty shootout on Sunday.

However, McBrearty says he has spotted a resilience in Armagh’s semi-final performance against Down that enabled them to get over the line by a point.

“That was the type of game they could have lost on another day,” said the Kilcar clubman who admitted that the Donegal players practice penalties at the end of training sessions even though “the ‘keepers aren’t too keen to step in”.

“Down could have caught anyone on the hop and Armagh did show good resolve to come back and win that game because a lot of teams might have lost it.”

Donegal might also have lost their semi-final against Tyrone. Three points behind at half-time, they kept coming back until they eventually over-hauled the Red Hands late in extra-time.

Jim McGuinness got the better of Mickey Harte once more as Donegal defeated north-west nei.ghbours Derry on Saturday night. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Jim McGuinness got the better of Mickey Harte once again when Donegal defeated north-west neighbours Derry in the Ulster quarter-finals. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

“It’s all just about sticking to the process and the gameplans, not deviating away from that when things are going bad for you,” explained McBrearty.

“Things weren’t going well for us, but we did stick to what we were told to do. The right periods of the game went well for us, and we felt in extra-time, we probably did have the legs, given the day’s extra recovery that we had over Tyrone. We’re well prepared, we’re told everything, but as players it’s basically down to us to implement what we’re told.”

He admits that Donegal have “left a lot of big days” behind them and says the players had to convince Jim McGuinness to return to the helm for this season. Ten games into McGuinness’s second coming, McBrearty has yet to taste defeat (nine wins and that draw in Armagh).

“We always thought: ‘How do we get over the line?’ and I thought if we had Jim in, we could win those big games. Thankfully he did come back. There were a lot of conversations and we had to convince him this group was good enough and that we would do whatever he said if he did come back.

“Standards and expectations in terms of what he demands of you as a player are the same. The game itself has changed a lot since he was last here in 2014. It was interesting to see how he has slotted straight back into it and it’s been a seamless transition really.”