Hard fight ahead but Donegal should have enough to survive
Armagh lack the same range of attacking options and control as Ulster champions
Donegal’s Karl Lacey with Aaron Findon and Aidan Forker of Armagh: their clash at the Athletics Grounds promises to be a hard-fought encounter. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Championship draws take place in a blur of optimism and expectation but many a long-term surprise sharpens into something a bit more predictable as the focus tightens. Donegal, one Ulster championship defeat in the past 15, have to travel to Armagh but otherwise the scales look tilted in the champions’ favour.
They have already had one championship outing, a useful contest with Tyrone, and delivered something close to their A game, strangling the ball carrier, turning over possession and launching the trademark breakaway cells from deep.
Frank McGlynn had an exceptional match, and his hard running and perceptive use of the ball was a constant problem for the opposition.
That relentless ability to keep doing the right thing either in attack or in defence is the most conspicuous sign that Donegal have made a smooth transition from Jim McGuinness’s management to Rory Gallagher’s.
Armagh’s optimism about taking on the champions is based on their momentum from a successful season’s promotion and as divisional winners plus how close they came to upsetting their opponents in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
There are differences though. Last year when the teams met, Armagh had been through a testing campaign, taking Monaghan to a replay before beating Tyrone in Omagh in the qualifiers, followed by Roscommon and Meath.
This time around they’re straight into the championship having spent the spring two levels beneath Donegal, who reached the Division One semi-finals. (“Are there many Division Three medals in the county?” asked one underwhelmed Armagh local.)
Overall though Donegal look too strong and too practised in attack. Michael Murphy was quiet the last day until presented with the opportunities to win the match, which he calmly took. Colm McFadden had his best match in Ulster for three years and Odhrán Mac Niallais continues to impress.
This may well be a battlefield but Donegal should survive.
Last meeting: 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final, Croke Park, Donegal 1-12, Armagh 1-11.
Odds: Armagh 2/1, Donegal 4/7 and 7/1 the draw.
Injuries: Daniel McLaughlin, who appeared briefly the last day as a replacement, is the only injury absentee from Donegal’s match 26 against Tyrone.
Just the ticket: Sold out.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Martin McElhinney; Christy Toye, Odhrán Mac Niallais, Ryan McHugh; Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy (capt.), Colm McFadden.
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)