Donegal cruise to victory over mis-firing Armagh in Ulster Championship quarter-final

Donegal's Shane O'Donnell leaves Jarly Og Burns of Armagh behind during the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final at Ballybofey. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Donegal's Shane O'Donnell leaves Jarly Og Burns of Armagh behind during the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final at Ballybofey. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Donegal 1-16 Armagh 0-12

From Andy Watters at Sean MacCumhaill Park


“Ole, Ole, Ole,” cheered the Donegal fans as their heroes passed and moved in the dying seconds of a quarter-final meeting that failed to live up to its billing.

Armagh players chased shadows and their supporters headed for the exits as Donegal ran the clock down. The home side won by seven points in the end and that was the least they deserved on a day when Armagh never really got going.

The Orchardmen battled alright but the great leap forward in the Championship did not come and Donegal won comfortably by playing adequately.

Kieran McGeeney set his side up to try negate Donegal strengths but his tactics seemed to take the edge off his own attack and, although Armagh led briefly after the first quarter, they were second best yesterday.

The seeds of their downfall were sown in the first half when they were cleaned out in midfield. With Hugh McFadden and Jason McGee outstanding, Donegal won eight of Ethan Rafferty’s kick-outs into the swirling wind. But although the Tir Chonaill men dominated possession they were wasteful with it and hit five shots wide and dropped another five short.

Meanwhile, Armagh lived on scraps but Donegal’s profligacy and their excellent conversion rate - six points from eight shots before half-time – meant they were still in touch at the break, just three points behind at 0-9 to 0-6.

In the early stages of the second half, the Orchardmen found the aggression they needed. Their high press on the Donegal kick-outs created half-chances for Rian O’Neill from the throw-in and Aidan Nugent but their hosts weathered the storm and after Paddy McBrearty bundled the ball into the back of their net after exchanging passes with Caolan Ward there was no coming back.

Playing with the wind in the first half was a bonus for Donegal and McGee set the tone for their aerial mastery when he rose to grab the throw-in and Eoghan Ban Gallagher opened the scoring when he raced into space and fisted the ball over the bar. Then Michael Langan won the first of a steady stream of Armagh restarts and when he was fouled Michael Murphy, who had Aidan Forker for company, stroked over the free.

Peadar Mogan hit a post and Armagh were finally able to get hands on the ball. They worked it upfield patiently and goalkeeper Rafferty was involved deep in Donegal territory before Jarly Og Burns fisted Armagh’s first score.

McGee cut through the Armagh defence and smashed a shot over the bar but Armagh hit back through Tiernan Kelly, Rory Grugan (easily their best forward yesterday) and then Conor Turbitt cut in from the right leaving Stephen McMenamin in his wake to send the visitors ahead for the first time.

Jamie Brennan and Langan both missed chances before Ryan McHugh’s jinking run forced another free for Murphy. He equalised but then Kelly played in Grugan and Armagh led again (0-5 to 0-4).

Armagh played a high line across their 45-yard line but Donegal’s quick hands and smart movement found pockets of space inside their defensive wall and Langan equalised as they seized control in the second quarter.

Langan sent another shot wide but Donegal won the kick-out, then McGee shot wide and Donegal won the kick-out and this time Murphy raced through to send them ahead. Paddy McBrearty, struggling to get into the game, tried his luck and Kelly’s needless foul on Langan presented Murphy with a simple free.

He took it and although Grugan’s free kept Armagh in touch, a McBrearty free and the point of the half from Ciaran Thompson meant Donegal went in leading 0-9 to 0-6 at the break.

Armagh must have been delighted with that because they had been out-played and they found the aggression and sense of purpose that had been missing at the start of the second half. Ben Crealey leapt to win the throw-in and after he was fouled the ball was pumped straight into the Donegal square.

Rian O’Neill caught it and turned to shoot but there was a green and gold wall in front of him and Patton smothered his shot. He scooped the ball into the net but his ‘goal’ was disallowed.

Then Aidan Nugent, on at half-time, kicked wide and, after O’Neill’s free had hit the post, Cullyhanna clubman Nugent had a sniff of goal. He lashed in a shot but Patton spread himself well and blocked it and when Grugan missed a mark moments later there was a feeling that Donegal had weathered the storm.

They had. Mogan’s darting run sent Shane O’Donnell clear and he opened the second half scoring with a point after minutes.

Armagh continued to huff and puff without any cutting edge and Donegal moved through the gears and put the game beyond them. McFadden, Langan, Shane O’Donnell and McHugh were all involved before McBrearty played the ball out to Caolan Ward on the right wing. The St Euan’s defender cut inside and fisted the ball across goal and McBrearty bundled it into the back of the net.

Armagh’s response was to send on Stefan Campbell for Jemar Hall and Campbell (the only one of the un-suspended trio to score) immediately produced a trademark point but Donegal were always a step ahead of the Orchardmen. McBrearty missed a simple free but McHugh soon earned another and Murphy stroked it over to leave seven in it after 54 minutes.

Crealey and then Grugan replied but, although they diced with death at the back at times, Gallagher’s pace got Donegal moving and McFadden slipped the ball to Langan on the loop and he kicked his third fine point.

Oisin O’Neill and McBrearty swapped scores and Grugan’s point briefly cut the gap to five before Langan, Murphy (who finished the game looking flying-fit) and Conor O’Donnell points ensured there would be no Orchard fightback.

The seconds ticked away and, with the game won, Donegal passed and moved and the final whistle was a relief for Armagh.

Donegal: S Patton; C Ward, B McCole, S McMenamin; R McHugh, E Ban Gallagher (0-1), P Mogan; H McFadden, J McGee (0-1); C Thompson (0-1), S O’Donnell (0-1), M Langan (0-3); P McBreaty (1-2, 0-1 free), M Murphy (0-6, 0- frees), J Brennan

Subs: C McGonagle for McGee (52), C O’Donnell (0-1) for Thompson (54), N O’Donnell for McFadden (60), P Brennan for S O’Donnell (67), A Doherty for Brennan (73)

Yellow cards: Langan (10)

Armagh: E Rafferty; J Morgan, A Forker, A McKay; N Grimley, G McCabe (0-1), J Og Burns (0-1); Connaire Mackin, B Crealey (0-1); J Hall, R Grugan (0-5, 0-3 frees), T Kelly (0-1); C Turbitt (0-1), R O’Neill, J Duffy

Subs: A Nugent for Duffy (HT), S Campbell (0-1) for Hall (47), O O’Neill (0-1) for Mackin (50), R McQuillan for Forker (60)

Yellow cards: R O’Neill (35), Forker (38)

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)

Attendance: 13,689