Donegal’s hold on the Dr McKenna Cup was loosened as Rory Grugan’s late point put Armagh through to the final.
Donegal 1-10 Armagh 0-14
By Chris McNulty at Healy Park
The teams had been level nine times in a tense tussle at blustery Healy Park, but Grugan had the decisive say a minute from the end.
Donegal had a last-gasp chance to force extra time when they were awarded a 45-metre free. Caolan McGonagle trotted out and seemed to be shaping up to have a go, but Ryan McHugh elected to try and work a score, but his pass, intended for Ciaran Thompson, failed to reach its intended target.
Jason McGee’s 23rd minute goal had Donegal within a point at half-time, when Armagh were 0-9 to 1-5 ahead.
It was an often lethargic opening from Donegal, but there was a considerable improvement on the resumption.
Points from Michael Langan, McGonagle and Ciaran Thompson had them in front briefly in the early stages of part two.
Armagh fielded a much stronger hand than Declan Bonner – who has yet to restore the likes of Michael Murphy, Paddy McGrath, Frank McGlynn and Eoghan Ban Gallagher to the Donegal ranks – and they led via points from Stefan Campbell and the excellent Niall Grimley.
This was a repeat of one of the 2018 semi-finals, when Patrick McBrearty scored eight points as Donegal took victory in Celtic Park.
It was anyone’s game as they turned the bend into the home straight.
Jamie Brennan brought the sides level for the ninth time seven minutes from the end of normal time, but Grugan clipped the
Donegal’s goal arrived when a delightful diagonal ball from Niall O’Donnell found McGonagle wide on the right flank and his ball into the danger zone was palmed home by McGee.
McGee, who spent 2018 in exile from the senior ranks having opted to throw his lot in with the county U21s, is back with a point to prove and the Cloughaneely man has been showing well.
Armagh just couldn’t deal with his presence as he climbed to knock in a goal that put Donegal three ahead, after the Orchard, led by Grimley at centre-field, had posted three-in-a-row.
Grimley and Rory Grugan pulled Armagh within a point again before Rian O’Neill drew them level after taking a majestic pass round the back from Stefan Campbell.
In spite of facing into the wind for the first half, Armagh led at the break when Grimley tapped over a free in added time.
Nine points from Langan steered Donegal to a comfortable win over Cavan in Ballybofey mid-week to seal their place at the top of Section A, while Armagh sauntered through Section B, scoring 8-51 on their way.
Langan arched over an equalising point after Grugan’s close-range free put Armagh in front.
Jamie Brennan landed a historic score to put Donegal in front. Brennan did well to collect a pass from Paul Brennan.
The Bundoran forward took the ‘mark’, from the chalk of the ’45 and arrowed over in style for Donegal’s first pointed ‘mark’.
It was a score that ignited the fire in Brennan. From the far side of the ’45, Brennan, aided by a stiff Omagh breeze firmly in the Tir Chonaill sails in part one, found his range again.
Ciaran Thompson – one of the late inclusions in the starting XV – converted a free following a foul on the lively Brennan.
Late in the half, Brennan – from a ‘mark’ from close range after Ryan McHugh’s expert pass gave him the chance – was off target with what seemed a much easier attempt, but when Brennan fisted over from 25 metres, Donegal had their noses in front.
Donegal had lost their way for long spells of the first period with Armagh on top and full value for their advantage.
Donegal: Mark Anthony McGinley; Caolan Ward, Brendan McCole, Conor Morrison; Ryan McHugh, Tony McClenaghan, Paul Brennan; Hugh McFadden, Jason McGee (1-1); Martin McElhinney, Niall O’Donnell, Caolan McGonagle (0-1); Michael Langan (0-2, 1f), Ciaran Thompson (0-2, 1f), Jamie Brennan (0-3, 1m). Subs: Eamonn Doherty for Morrison (half-time), Peadar Mogan for McClenaghan (48), Martin O’Reilly for O’Donnell (48), Oisin Gallen for McElhinney (60).
Armagh: Blaine Hughes; Connaire Mackin, Ryan Kennedy, James Morgan; Mark Shields, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker; Stephen Sheridan (0-1), Niall Grimley (0-4, 3f); Jemar Hall (0-2), Rory Grugan (0-3, 1f), Ryan McShane; Stefan Campbell (0-3), Rian O’Neill (0-1), Jamie Clarke. Subs: Greg McCabe for Forker (10), Jarlath Óg Burns for O’Neill (60), Joe McElroy for McShane (65), Charlie Vernon for Hall (69), Jack Grugan for Campbell (70).
Referee: Paul Faloon (Down).Tags: