Donegal outbattle Armagh to cruise to victory in Ballybofey

Captain Michael Murphy scores six points as hosts prove too strong for the Orchardmen

Donegal 1-16 Armagh 0-12

Playing well is the best revenge. These can be stressful days in the Ulster championship already, and Donegal finished this one calm as a round of Wim Hof breathing.

Any talk of resentment beforehand meant nothing by the end, because even without their full pick of players Donegal comfortably outran and outpossessed the recently restored full pick of Armagh. Their only fault is that they didn’t outscore them by even more.

Seven points or not they held Armagh prisoner, even by fortress MacCumhaill Park standard. The crowd of 13,689 came anticipating a war of sorts only to witness Donegal win every battle, leaders throughout the field and none more lasting than Michael Murphy.


When six minutes were announced at the end of the 70, the Donegal captain fetched another ball around midfield and sent his shot clearly between the posts, his second from play to add to his four frees; four minutes before that, Murphy cleanly soloed the ball 50 metres through the middle of the field before laying off to Michael Langan, who scored his third.

In that move the player giving chase on Murphy was Armagh replacement Stefan Campbell, one the three players involved despite being originally handed a one-match ban for his part in the melee at the end of their league showdown last month. Campbell was only on the field 20 minutes and couldn't keep up with Murphy, and by then the message couldn't have been any louder. Murphy is few months shy of his 33rd birthday.

Rian O'Neill and Aidan Nugent, the other two cleared and available for Armagh, suffered a similar fate. O'Neill was a backseat passenger to Brendan McCole's shotgun of a defence, held scoreless even when moving out to midfield in a desperate attempt to win more ball. Nugent joined the forwards at half-time and was held scoreless too.

From the throw-in Donegal were killing Armagh softly in the kick-outs, setting up a wall of players across the middle of the field. Ethan Rafferty could find no way over or through. Despite lording all possession in the first-half, Donegal were only three points up, kicking five first-half wides, dropping three short, with another coming off the post. They were playing into the breeze, it was tricky.

That was forgotten 11 minutes into the second half when another searing run inside from deep, started by Langan, finished with Patrick McBrearty completing a sweet one-two with corner back Caolan Ward, his punch of a finish unstoppable from close range. McBrearty's goal put Donegal six points up. That was that.


Declan Bonner fielded questions in the warm sunshine in the immediate aftermath, the Donegal manager expressing natural satisfaction at the result, while declining to look too far back on you know what. Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney declined to say anything.

“Once the decision was made, we decided to go by the referee’s report, was told there was no point really in appealing,” Bonner said about the Donegal players, Odhrán McFadden-Ferry and Neil McGee, not available on the day. “We didn’t want to be in a situation where you’re wanting to know for two or three weeks will you or won’t you have these players available.”

On the Armagh decision to appeal, clearing the way for O’Neill, Nugent and Campbell, he said: “I’m not going to get involved, I know you’re looking for a bit of controversy, you’re not going to get that, but you see it yourself, players getting off, you have to look at it, that’s for sure.

“But to me, in terms of the CAC, or the CCC, whatever it is, a lot of questions there to be answered, because that whole appeals committee is a farce, to be quite honest. Not that we dwelled too much on it, we went and did the job we had to do.”

Indeed they did, Donegal’s brilliant game management built on holding the ball at will and sustaining their energy output to the end. Hugh McFadden and Jason McGee set that tone at midfield, Ciarán Thompson, Ward and inevitably Ryan McHugh channelling buckets of possession.

“Yeah, delighted, a good workman-like performance, guys coming off the bench adding a bit as well,” added Bonner. “I got a good sense over the last three weeks, this was championship mode now, that’s exactly what it was. Certainly happy with the way we shut down the Armagh kick-outs.”

Four of Donegal's nine points in the first half were won off Armagh kick-outs, Rafferty favouring the right side to little avail. Armagh did enjoy brief spells of possession, allowing the excellent Rory Grugan to get the best out of his game, Jarly Og Burns also popping up for a first half point. Still they were fortunate to be only 9-6 in arrears at the turnaround.

Their high point came early in the second half when Nugent's close-range shot was saved by Shaun Patton, offering them some hope perhaps. Instead Shane O'Donnell hit the first point of the half and after that Donegal never once looked out of breath, while Armagh began to wilt, Aidan Forker retiring early with a leg cramp.

Donegal’s win also opens the easier path to the Ulster final, Cavan up in the semi-final on May 8th. Some “olé, olé” at the end plenty to enjoy for the Donegal supporters for now.

Donegal: 1 S Patton; 2 C Ward, 3 B McCole, 4 S McMenamin; 5 R McHugh, 6 E Ban Gallagher (0-1), 25 P Mogan; 8 H McFadden, 9 J McGee (0-1); 10 C Thompson (0-1), 20 S O'Donnell (0-1), 12 M Langan (0-3); 13 P McBrearty (1-2, one free), 14 M Murphy (capt) (0-6, four frees), 15 J Brennan. Subs: 18 C McGonagle for McGee (51 mins, inj), 19 C O'Donnell (0-1) for Thompson (54 mins), 11 N O'Donnell for McFadan (60 mins), 7 P Brennan for O'Donnell (68 mins), 24 A Doherty for Brennan (74 mins)

Armagh: 1 E Rafferty; 2 J Morgan, 3 A Forker, 4 A McKay; 5 N Grimley, 6 G McCabe (0-1), 7 J Og Burns (0-1); 8 C Mackin, 9 B Crealey (0-1); 10 J Hall, 11 R Grugan (0-5, three frees), 12 T Kelly (0-1); 26 C Turbitt (0-1), 14 R O'Neill (co-capt), 15 J Duffy. Subs: 13 A Nugent for Duffy (half-time), 23 S Campbell (0-1) for Hall (46 mins), 22 O O'Neill (0-1) for Mackin (50 mins), 20 R McQuillan for Forker (62 mins, inj).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics