Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney downcast as Donegal win Ulster Senior Football Championship final

Shane McPartlan inconsolable after Shaun Patton save send Anglo-Celt back to Donegal

Armagh's Shane McPartland curses his luck after missing his penalty against Donegal. Pic Philip Walsh
Armagh's Shane McPartland curses his luck after missing his penalty against Donegal. Pic Philip Walsh

AN island of desolation in a joyous sea of green and gold, Shane McPartlan was inconsolable after Shaun Patton’s saved his penalty and won the Anglo-Celt for Donegal.

Clan na Gael clubman McPartlan had bravely stepped up to take Armagh’s first in the shootout and, after all five takers on either sides had found the net, it began again.

Aaron Doherty scored again but this time Patton guessed right and smothered McPartlan’s shot. St Tiernach’s Park erupted and the Ulster title was on its way back to the Hills.

“I was never really a penalty-taker myself and it’s just one of those things if they (the goalkeeper) guess right, they block it,” said Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney.

“Shane McPartland is probably the best penalty-taker on the team. Of all people…

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. No-one knows that better than Armagh who lost a penalty shootout for the fourth time in three ‘almost’ seasons.

Four ahead in normal time, two ahead in extra-time, once again the Orchardmen couldn’t shake off a dogged opponent. Galway (2022), Derry and Monaghan (last year) hung in there with them and Donegal did the same to win an Ulster title that would have seemed pie in the sky this time last year.

McGeeney didn’t have the answer when he was asked what Armagh had to do to win a penalty shootout.

“I suppose the only thing you can do is win it in ordinary time,” said the Armagh manager.

“It’s hard luck but I suppose when it happen four times maybe it’s not hard luck, maybe it’s something else that we’re missing?

“When you lose (it is cruel).

“We’ve been on the receiving end of it… That’s four massive games we’ve been on the bad end of it. It’s very difficult – there’s no point in saying otherwise. But there’s not much we can do about it.”

A bounce of the ball here, a fumble there… Miniscule margins once again made the difference and Armagh just came out on the wrong side of them.

“The standard from both teams - serious pace, serious tackles,” said McGeeney.

“It’s a ball one way or a ball the other, a slip one way or a slip the other. When you lose, you’re the gobshite, but that’s just the way it goes.

“We’re a team that comes from behind and we’ve done that on more than one occasion and today the turning point was probably Oisín Conaty being through and their man got half a block on it and it just dropped into the keeper’s hands and that would have put us five up.

“But Donegal are a good team as everyone is pointing out, and you just have to give them credit, that’s it.”

McGeeney has a fortnight to lift his troops before they face Westmeath at the Athletic Grounds in a repeat of their opener in last year’s All-Ireland series. Armagh struggled in that game but recovered to top their group before exiting the series (penalties again) against Monaghan.

“They are all tough,” said McGeeney.

“You couldn’t look at any of those groups and say they are not tough. It’ll be hard to lift it but we’ll do our best.”

Armagh were four points up with 17 minutes to go and failing to push on to victory is ultimately what cost them their first provincial title since 2008.

“Donegal didn’t score for the first 18 minutes,” McGeeney pointed out.

“When you look at the end of it, you all see different patterns but it was a very even match.

“We looked to have control, they looked to be running out of ideas. They got a couple of easy scores, probably when Oisin broke through there was a half-block and it fell short and that would have put five points in it, probably the turning point, they got four after that.

“It was more likely to end in a draw than not, so you just go with the flow.

“Wee things got away Jarlath Burns just bending to pick up a ball… If it goes down the other way it’s a score, those are the things, some day they got for you, some days they go against you.”