So much for Armagh’s long-awaited attack on Fortress Ballybofey and the Ulster Championship. Led by the eternal Michael Murphy on one side and full-back Brendan McCole on the other, Donegal gave the ailing Orchard men an emphatic number this afternoon.
The final span was seven; Kieran McGeeney couldn’t complain either, his only consolation being that he’ll get a second chance in qualifying this season. Their afternoon was summed up by the fate of Rian O’Neill, whose talisman was held scoreless by the liable McCole.
Donegal in this form will take on Cavan in the semi-finals, the team who stunned them in the 2020 Ulster final.
Declan Bonner’s side led 9-0 to 6-0 at half-time after playing with fresh wind and you wondered if three points would be enough.
Within seconds of the restart, Armagh almost equalized with a Route One delivery caught by Rian O’Neill. But the Armagh No 14 was pinned just under a yard from the goal line and a free-out was eventually called.
Another reprieve came for the home side three minutes later, thanks to Shaun Patton’s sharp reflexes at his near post as he saved from half-time substitute Aidan Nugent.
But Donegal survived that mini-attack and after Shane O’Donnell had extended his lead to four and a potential scoring chance hissed over the bar, they struck again for the killer goal in the 46th minute.
A patient build-up received sudden momentum when Paddy McBrearty located Caolan Ward in space and, instead of scoring his own goal, passed over the Tormaul to fist home the onrushing McBrearty.
Despite Stefan Campbell responding with Armagh’s first point of the half, you could already feel the game was gone from them.
In the last 20 minutes, Donegal beat their rivals six points to five to win by seven points – and it might have been even more if Murphy’s great 50-yard dash and clever assist to Michael Langan scored in the 66th minute. minute would have ended. Instead, his shot fizzled to his third point.
This finely balanced competition would have been eagerly awaited even without the choppy backdrop of Letterkenny four weeks ago.
This end-of-game melee ignited the touchpaper, but further potential for fireworks was ignited by the resulting disciplinary results.
Donegal had two players behind – Odhrán McFadden-Ferry and Neil McGee – who accepted their one-game punishment.
Armagh, on the other hand, was both pardoned and relieved, as Rian O’Neill was free to begin after his successful foray before the Central Hearings Committee, while fellow captain Aidan Nugent and Stefan Campbell were among the U-Boats after their bans were lifted by the Central Appeals Committee .
Only one of Armagh’s originally sanctioned quartet, Ciarán Mackin, missed; He had not appealed to the CAC, although he would have missed the game anyway through injury.
On paper, these developments slightly tipped this 50-50 fight in favor of the visitors. On the other hand, McGeeney was starting his eighth SFC campaign as Armagh manager and had yet to reach a provincial final. Despite all their flashy league advances over the past few years, it was high time for Geezer’s team to set a championship marker.
Bonner has also come under scrutiny after failing to build on back-to-back Ulster titles in 2018-19 and then suffering painful exits in the last two consecutive co-provincial campaigns.
Assisted by a fresh breeze, Donegal’s intent was evident from the throw-in, Eoin Ban Gallagher and Murphy (from a free-kick) putting them to an early two-point lead.
But when Peadar Mogan hit a post on their third attempt at goal, it unleashed a spell of waste from the hosts as they struggled to maximize possession against a deep-lying Armagh rearguard.
In contrast, Armagh was both efficient and perceptive in his attacks. By the 12th minute they were leading 4-0, 3-0, their lead coming after Jason McGee’s hesitation led to an overcarry and a quick counterattack, Conor Turbitt burning Stephen McMenamin for a sweet left footed shot.
Murphy’s 47-yard free play restored parity mid-half and the second quarter was all about Donegal dominating the territory but not using it enough. They still landed five of the last seven points to lead 9-0, 6-0 at half-time, but in truth it should have been more.
By halftime, they had won eight of Armagh’s 14 kickouts, clearing the vast majority of Ethan Rafferty’s longer restarts. Less promising, they had five wides, four short tries and another from the post – while Armagh’s first wide via Aidan Forker didn’t arrive until first-half injury time.
donegal: M Murphy 0-6 (4f), P McBrearty 1-2 (0-1f), M Langan 0-3, E Gallagher, J McGee, C Thompson, S O’Donnell, C O’Donnell 0-1 each.
Armagh: R Grugan 0-5 (3f), J Burns, T Kelly, C Turbitt, S Campbell, B Crealey, O O’Neill, G McCabe 0-1 each.
DONEGAL- S Patton; C Ward, B McCole, S McMenamin; R McHugh, E Gallagher, P Mogan; H McFadden, J McGee; Thompson C, O’Donnell S, Langan M; P McBrearty, M Murphy, J Brennan.
Subtitle: C McGonagle for McGee (inj 51), C O’Donnell for Thompson (54), N O’Donnell McFadden (61), P Brennan for S O’Donnell (68), A Doherty for J Brennan (74).
ARMAGH- E Rafferty; J Morgan, A Forker, A McKay; Grimley N, McCabe G, Burns J; C Mackin, B Crealey; J Hall, R Grugan, T Kelly; C Turbitt, R O’Neill, J Duffy.
Subtitle: A Nugent for Duffy (ht), S Campbell for Hall (47), O O’Neill for Mackin (50), R McQuillan for Forker (inj 62).
REF- M Deegan (Laois)
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/michael-murphy-shines-as-donegal-brush-armagh-aside-to-move-into-ulster-sfc-semi-finals-41583045.html Michael Murphy shines as Donegal sidelines Armagh and advances to Ulster SFC semi-finals