Shootout glory hands Donegal first Ulster title in five years

In a stellar shootout, 10 penalties were scored in the first round before Armagh’s Shane McPartlan missed in sudden death

Donegal 0-20 Armagh 0-20 (Donegal win 6-5 on penalties)

Now Jimmy’s winning shootouts. The second Jim McGuinness revolution duly continued to mirror the first at Clones on Sunday. Having won the Division Two title against the same opposition in March, Donegal took Armagh to the unrelenting nightmare of a penalty shootout and won this year’s Ulster championship – the county’s first in five years.

For Armagh, who like last year, had the opportunity to win the match in both normal and extra time, it was a fourth successive championship to end in penalties.

The standard of the shootout execution was incredibly high: 10 penalties all scored in the first round. Aaron Doherty scored for Donegal in the sudden death phase and the unfortunate Shane McPartlan saw his attempt to equalise saved by Shaun Patton.

Neither team had made an unanswerable case during normal time with both of them shot shy for critical periods as the teams set up defensively and invited their opponents on.


Armagh looked to have made a decisive move at the start of the final quarter when Stefan Campbell kicked them into a four-point lead, 0-15 to 0-11 but there was a mysterious momentum shift – also reflected in an unbroken sequence of six frees against Armagh – and incrementally, Donegal responded.

If Armagh found some of the frees against them harsh, they equally got away with what looked like a foul on Oisín Gallen after he had capitalised on a bad bounce to disrupt an Armagh move and turn over possession.

For all that was admirable in their taking the match by the scruff of the neck, Donegal were assisted by Armagh disappearing into their shells. The high-water mark of the four-point lead receded and they failed to score again in normal time.

Niall O’Donnell, who was named man of the match, started the recovery in the 54th minute with a wonderful point and within four minutes, the margin was down to one, as Oisín Gallen and Jason McGee added scores.

It took until the 64th minute for the equaliser to arrive, courtesy of Patrick McBrearty, who had been switched with an extra defender, Eoin Bán Gallagher, before the start but whose return in the 42nd minute gave Donegal more options up front.

There was a sense of inevitability about extra time. Both sides moved the ball ponderously as if afraid to turn over possession by missing a chance. Armagh replacement Tiernan Kelly took a mark in the 73rd minute and had a crack at it only to send the ball wide.

Donegal were dilatory on their last attack, as if the players were unaware that time had all but run out, an impression helped by the three additional minutes being announced as they were about to elapse.

So, for the third year running, the Ulster final went to extra time.

Apart from the four-point back and forth in the second half, the teams had been claustrophobically close, level seven times in the first half before Armagh went in ahead 0-10 to 0-9.

Play had ebbed and flowed. With the wind at their back, Armagh showed greater urgency when moving forward and their scores seemed to come a bit more easily.

Two forwards had their eye in. Gallen took the game to Armagh, shooting on sight rather than slotting into the mosaic of aimless short passing. In the fourth minute, having previously seen a lengthy attack turned over by an alert defence, the Donegal full forward shot straight away to equalise Aidan Forker’s opening score.

Gallen added three more from play and a free before half-time. Aaron McKay was switched onto him for the rest of the match and did well to staunch the flow of scores.

Conor Turbitt fulfilled a similar role for Armagh, kicking four from play by the end, three in the first half and one just after the break when Forker’s dropping delivery was punched out to the incoming corner forward but he elected to take the point with a goal possibly but not screamingly on.

Matters had been complicated when the promised status yellow rain arrived, making play more difficult and driving out a good few of the less hardy spectators.

Neither side really hit potential. Big performers up to the final, like Armagh’s Rian O’Neill and especially Donegal’s Ryan McHugh, weren’t at the top of their game and if the standard of marksmanship was decent with few enough wides, the shot selection wasn’t always ambitious and the constant probing to make sure of scores saw plenty of attacks thought better of and reloaded.

Extra time featured little deviation and Armagh, with Jarly Óg Burns, who added a bit of zip to their attacks when brought on in the 60th minute, supplying a couple of assists to help them to an 0-18 to 0-17 interval lead.

They looked to have made a decisive run on the scoreboard when going two up, 0-20 to 0-18, in the second half of extra time – Oisín O’Neill providing a swashbuckling point from nearly 45 metres – but again grew cautious. Inevitably Donegal chased down the deficit. Points from Dara Ó Baoill and Odhrán Doherty tied it up and for a second year running the Anglo Celt Cup would go down to penalties.

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, B McCole, C Moore; R McHugh, C McGonagle, P Mogan (0-2); J McGee (0-1), M Langan (0-1); S O’Donnell (0-2), C Thompson, D Ó Baoill (0-2); EB Gallagher, O Gallen (0-6, two frees), N O’Donnell (0-2).

Subs: C McColgan for Curran (half-time), P McBrearty (0-2, one free) for Moore (42 mins), A Doherty for Ó Baoill (46 mins), J Brennan for Gallagher (54 mins), J Mac Ceallbhuí (0-1) for Thompson (68 mins), O Doherty (0-1) for Gallen (73 mins), Ó Baoill for N O’Donnell (half-time, et), Thompson for McBrearty (87 mins).

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; J McElroy, C Mackin (0-1), A Forker (0-1); R O’Neill (0-1, one mark), B Crealey (0-2, one mark); S Campbell (0-2), R Grugan (0-1), G McCabe; O Conaty (0-2), A Murnin (0-2), C Turbitt (0-4).

Subs: J Óg Burns for McCabe (60 mins), O O’Neill (0-1) for Crealey (61 mins), A Nugent (0-3, one free) for Turbitt (66 mins), T Kelly for Forker (70 mins), J Duffy for McElroy (71 mins), J Hall for McGrane (78 mins), S McParland for Mackin (half-time et), Turbitt for R O’Neill (85 mins),

Referee: M McNally (Monaghan).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times