Donegal keep their cool to see off Armagh

Jim McGuiness’ side come out on top after a bad-tempered affair at Croke Park


Donegal 1-12 Armagh 1-11: Donegal just about survived an intensely absorbing and typically rousing all-Ulster showdown in Croke Park to earn their place in the All-Ireland football semi-final.

Armagh - as entirely expected - didn’t go down without a considerable fight, in both the football and psychological sense. They had two late chances to force a replay, with Tony Kernan’s two frees - but one went wide, the other fell short.

This after Armagh edged in front on 60 minutes, thanks to Stefan Campell’s slightly fortuitous goal - which went in off the ankle of Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan, after initially hitting the upright.

But Donegal then displayed brilliant nerve and composure to score the next two points from play, a superb left-footed strike from captain Michael Murphy, followed by a classy score from the right boot of Paddy McBreaty.

It was enough to see Donegal through, just about, although with a little more composure of their own Armagh might well have landed one of the late equalising chances.

Indeed, Armagh were certainly up for the contest from the start, both rough and ready, but after taking an early lead, were slowly overrun by the sheer power and brute force of Donegal, who indeed held their composure throughout, despite Armagh’s best efforts to rattle them in the first half.

Odhran Mac Niallais first sent Donegal into their way with a deftly struck goal on 23 minutes, while Colm McFadden and McBrearty sufficiently raised their game in the second to ensure they kept their noses in front for a good while.

But a succession of wides - Donegal finished with 15 - meant Armagh were never out of the game either, and Kernan’s point from play, just before Campbell’s goal, kept the margin at two.

Conditions deteriorated towards the end, the rain drizzling down on Croke Park, and that appeared to suit Donegal even more. But still Armagh made sure it went down to the wire, and in fairness showed considerable hunger right until the finish despite their long succession of games.

So the 2012 All-Ireland champions will next face either Dublin or Monaghan at the end of the month. It was also first win over Armagh for Donegal manager Jim McGuinness, since he took charge.

The game turned majorly scrappy - literally - after just 10 minutes, when Armagh began to get under the skin of certain Donegal players, particularly Aaron Findon on Colm McFadden, who got entangled in front of the Hill 16 end. Various members of the management teams then spilled onto the field, including Armagh manager Paul Grimley and assistant Kieran McGeeney.

It threatened to get very ugly, yet Donegal sensibly backed off - even if they appeared temporarily rattled afterwards. Manager McGuinness certainly kept his cool.

Still, Armagh had knocked three points in succession, Tony Kernan and Aidan Forker both scoring from play, and with that Grimley’s team went 0-3 to 0-1 ahead.

Almost inevitably, once Murphy moved closer to the square, Donegal soon got their breakthrough - although it was midfielder Neil Gallagher who set up the move that resulted in a brilliant goal for Mac Niallais, who spun deftly right of the Armagh goal, and shot neatly inside the near post of Philip McEvoy.

Armagh did strike back with points from Campbell and corner back Andy Mallon, and stayed close from there until the break - Donegal full back Neil McGee also chipping in with what was only his second ever championship point.

Still, Donegal were just about worth their two point-advantage at half-time, 1-5 to 0-6, although slightly more of the slicker, faster play in the first half was actually played by Armagh.

So ends a tempestuous season for Armagh, the team who have done all their talking on the pitch this summer, refusing to engage in any mainstream media activities after the fallout from their pre-match brawl with Cavan at the start of the Ulster championship.

Donegal: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee (0-1), F McGlynn; A Thompson, K Lacey, P McGrath; N Gallagher, O Mac Niallais (1-1); C Toye, L McLoone, R McHugh; P McBrearty (0-2), M Murphy (0-5, four frees) (capt), C McFadden (0-3, one free). Subs: R Kavanagh for Toye (43 mins), M McElhinney for McLoone (55 mins), D O’Connor for McFadden (58 mins), M O’Reilly for McBrearty (70 mins)

Armagh: P McEvoy; F Moriarty, C Vernon, A Mallon (0-1); M Shields, B Donaghy, A Kernan (0-2, one free); S Harold, A Findon; A Forker (0-1), K Dyas, T Kernan (0-4, one free); K Carragher (0-1), S Campbell (1-1), J Clarke. Subs: B Mallon for Carragher (41 mins), E Rafferty for Findon (45 mins), R Grugan for Dyas (55 mins), M Murray (0-1) for Forker (58 mins), K Toner for Harold (65 mins)

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)

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