Although the world and its mother took a peculiar bounce in 2020 and the championship is now one played in a chill on dark evenings with a sprinkling of masked attendees in echo-filled grounds, one thing that has remained constant is Donegal’s consistency in Ulster.
Donegal 1-22 Armagh 0-13
For those at home, there’s a warmth in that.
As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. There’s a ninth provincial final in 10 years on the horizon because Donegal were the most comfortable of winners against an Armagh team who scarred a generation or two of their predecessors.
Things are different, in more ways than one, now.
Twelve up at half-time, 12 up at the end, 13 different scorers, with Peadar Mogan grabbing the only goal at Breffni Park in Cavan. Donegal were as hot as Cavan town was cold.
Many might’ve thought Armagh, now promoted to Division 1 again, would’ve been a potential banana skin for Declan Bonner’s side, but there was a comfort in Donegal’s performance.
They were 1-12 to 0-3 up at half-time with Peadar Mogan scoring a fine goal on 34 minutes when he picked up a loose ball following a challenge between Michael Murphy and Armagh’s Aidan Forker after Ciaran Thompson’s raking ball in. Mogan cut in from the right and worked an angle before shooting past Blaine Hughes.
It capped a period of Donegal domination. Their second quarter was excellent, at one point scoring five points in six minutes.
At 0-5 to 0-2 in front at the water break, they used the wind to their advantage to kick three marked scores in succession, through Caolan McGonagle, Hugh McFadden and Niall O’Donnell.
Murphy was being well enough shackled by Forker, although the Donegal skipper was finding it hard to get a free and yelped his frustration at one stage at linesman Barry Cassidy and Stephen McMenamin lasted only a couple of minutes before hobbling off.
All three of Armagh’s first half scores came from frees through Rian O’Neill. Donegal, hoovering up at midfield, saw Michael Langan and Ryan McHugh score late in the half to go in 12 points in front at the break.
O’Neill for Armagh and Donegal’s Ciaran Thompson, with two apiece, meant that cushion wasn’t severed by the 47th minute, when Jamie Clarke scored the first point from play for Kieran McGeeney’s team.
Jamie Brennan’s last act before making way for Patrick McBrearty was to fist a point and then his replacement did the exact same thing. Michael Murphy got in on the act and Armagh, in a training ground feel and atmosphere, popped over scores from the likes of O’Neill, Conor Turbitt and Clarke.
Cathal McKenna, in a late effort on goal, saw McGonagle clear off the line and that was that.
When Jim McGuinness was appointed in July 2010, Donegal hadn’t won a provincial crown since the All-Ireland season of 1992 and few would’ve predicted the sea change that lay ahead.
Every year since his first term, bar 2017, Donegal have now reached the provincial final, with this year’s spectacle tomorrow week taking place outside of St Tiernach’s Park in Clones, which has no lights to accommodate the 4pm start.
Cavan and Down meet tomorrow to confirm the final pairing. Donegal are going for an 11th provincial crown and their sixth in the last 10 seasons. You’d have got some odds on that in 2010 walking out of Crossmaglen.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Stephen McMenamin, Neil McGee, Eoghan Ban Gallagher (0-1); Ryan McHugh (0-2), Paul Brennan, Peadar Mogan (1-2); Hugh McFadden (0-1, 1m), Caolan McGonagle (0-2, 1m); Eoin McHugh, Niall O’ Donnell (0-2, 1m), Ciaran Thompson (0-2, 1f); Michael Langan (0-3), Michel Murphy (0-2, 2f), Jamie Brennan (0-2). Subs: Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí for McMenamin (5), Andrew McClean (0-1) for P Brennan (44), Patrick McBrearty (0-1) for J Brennan (50), Jason McGee for H McFadden (51), Oisin Gallen (0-1) for E McHugh (56).
Armagh: Blaine Hughes; Paddy Burns, Ryan Kennedy, James Morgan; Conor O’Neill, Aidan Forker, Mark Shields; Oisin O’Neill (0-1), Stephen Sheridan; Rory Grugan, Greg McCabe, Stefan Campbell; Jamie Clarke (0-2), Rian O’Neil (0-7, 45, 6f), Jarleth Og Burns. Subs Niall Grimley (0-1, 1m) for Sheridan (30), Jamar Hall and Andrew Murrin for O’Neill and Og Burns. (halftime), Ethan Rafferty for Murrin (47), Conor Turbitt (0-2, 1m) for Grugan (51)
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)