Donegal never led for a second at the Athletic Grounds but left an excitable home support licking their wounds as Armagh came within a whisker of a place in the semi-finals of the Allianz League Division 1.
Alan Foley at the Athletic Grounds
With the home team clinging on for dear life a point to the good, substitute Conor Turbitt struck an upright right on time in an attempt to force a two-point lead and moments later, on 72 minutes, Niall O’Donnell brought Donegal level for the first time since the fourth minute.
It deflated Armagh, who had made all the running and at that stage they knew it was gone. They had managed time and again to beat off Donegal’s advances, with Tiernan Kelly’s goal 14 minutes from time keeping them four ahead.
However, with Patrick McBrearty scoring eight points, Donegal were never dead. Their experience might’ve become more important the longer it went on too. The sun dominated the Cathedral city and with 500 supporters permitted entry there was a semblance of normality. Their ultimate mix of pride and disappointment added to the occasion.
Having beaten Monaghan and run Tyrone close in the northern section of the truncated league, McGeeney’s team had a lonely winter to let thoughts of last season’s championship exit meander. Donegal battered them 1-22 to 0-13 at Breffni in the Ulster SFC semi-final.
Armagh were up to make up for that from the start. While Monaghan managed four goals against Declan Bonner’s team last weekend primarily because of their direct running from deep, Armagh created opportunities with a variance of passing range and with Stefan Campbell causing bother inside and posting three early ones, were 0-5 to 0-1 in front at the water-break.
Donegal were hampered by the loss of Michael Murphy, who suffered a hamstring strain in their bizarre 1-20 to 4-11 draw with Monaghan a week beforehand and their average age dropped further when Neil McGee didn’t make it through the warm-up. Murphy was replaced by Eoghan McGettigan, who was making his first start and first appearance since a cameo in Castlebar in the super Eights the guts of two years ago.
Their fortunes improved in the second quarter, with Ryan McHugh finally posting their second point on 22 minutes, although Armagh’s attacks felt like they carried more energy, which was partially because of the vociferous backing.
Donegal, with 10 percent of the support, saw their scores greeted with muted applause, mainly from their substitutes and played their way back into things with McBrearty taking responsibility with three first half scores.
But when Jarly Og Burns dispossessed an isolated Eoghan Ban Gallagher a minute before the break, nothing come of it, but the challenge and how it the supporters fed of it was a soundbite of the first half as was the uncertainty shown by the visitors with Niall O’Donnell and Michael Langan.
Grugan would finish the first 35 with four points, with Stefan Campell also impressing, and their fine first half was given the conclusion it merited when Oisin O’Neill sat in a pocket outside of the 45-metre line and struck a belter that saw his team applauded off at 0-10 to 0-6 up.
Donegal, without their fulcrum, were busy and it took a moment of brilliance to raise their spirits as they aimed to claw their way back into the contest. Michael Langan, who scored a wonderful goal last weekend against Monaghan, did so in almost identical fashion, running from inside of his own half in a straight line almost before slamming into Blaine Hughes’ top corner on 40 minutes.
Armagh, newly promoted of course, were facing a test of character having been the better side for the most part, had only a two-point lead of 0-11 to 1-6 to show for it.
Their response was commendable, though, with Ross McQuillan and Oisin O’Neill ensuring Donegal were kept at arm’s length.
Conor O’Donnell, another in only his second appearance for Donegal, came off the bench and scored two points and again, his team were only four behind. McBrearty was demanding possession and keeping the scoreboard attendant occupied but when Donegal got back to one down, at 0-15 to 1-11, Kelly netted and Armagh looked on their way.
However, they were dragged back level with Ciaran Thompson pointing when he might’ve goaled and Niall O’Donnell levelling.
Donegal march on to Dublin or Kerry in all likelihood and Armagh must fight once more to make sure they stay in this division.
Armagh: Blaine Hughes; Ross Finn, James Morgan (0-1), Greg McCabe; Connaire Mackin, Aaron McKay, Ciaron O’Hanlon (0-1); Niall Grimley, Jarly Óg Burns (0-1); Ross McQuillan (0-1), Rian O’Neill, Jemar Hall (0-1); Rory Grugan (0-4, 3f), Stefan Campbell (0-4), Oisin O’Neill (0-2). Subs: Conor Turbitt for Morgan (ht), Tiernan Kelly (1-1) for McGuillan (43), Paul Hughes for Finn (64), Andrew Murrin for Burns (70+3), Jack Grugan for O O’Neill (70+6)
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Brendan McCole, Stephen McMenamin, Eoin McHugh; Ryan McHugh (0-1), Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher, Paul Brennan; Hugh McFadden, Michael Langan (1-1); Ciaran Thompson (0-1), Caolan McGonagle, Peadar Mogan; Patrick McBrearty (0-8, 3f), Niall O’Donnell (0-2, 1f), Eoghan McGettigan. Subs: Odhran MacNiallais and Conor O’Donnell (0-2) for Brennan and McGettigan (42), Caolan Ward (0-1) for E McHugh (58), Jason McGee for McFadden (61), Ethan O’Donnell for Thompson (70+1)
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)