Ulster SFC Quarter Final:
Armagh 0-8 Donegal 2-11
Donegal produced an awesome first half display to destroy Armagh and send out a powerful message about their championship intentions that will reverberate around the country.
Rory Gallagher’s side led 1-9 to 0-2 at half time, Paddy McBrearty’s third minute goal setting the tone for a relentless onslaught on a shellshocked home side.
Michael Murphy, playing mostly around midfield, was superb and kicked five monster frees in a ruthless, utterly convincing performance by a Donegal team chasing a fourth Ulster title in five years.
None of the 18,156 packed into the Athletic Grounds could have predicted the havoc Donegal would wreak in the opening half. From the moment Paddy McBrearty ripped the ball out of the sky, beating James Morgan in the air and scoring a third minute goal, it was clear how well tuned Donegal were for this particular contest.
All over the field they were winning the big battles, Murphy was dominant at midfield with Neil Gallagher switching in and out from full-forward to good effect. Despite James Morgan struggling on McBrearty, no change was made and the Kilcar forward intercepted a bad kickout, which was recycled out to Gallagher to score their first point after four minutes.
Rory Gallagher’s side reeled off a couple more points to take their lead out to 1-3 to no score after 12 minutes. Murphy was outstanding and landed the first of four monster first-half frees and a McElhinney score put them six points clear before Aaron Findon’s fisted point got Armagh on the scoreboard after 13 minutes. It was only temporary respite from Donegal’s brilliance.
Always taking the right option, they romped clear with Odhran McNiallais’s curling point before Murphy tagged on two frees from around the 55m mark. He fizzed a quick ball in to McBrearty, who turned sharply onto his left and split the posts to put the visitors 1-7 to 0-1 ahead after 25 minutes.
Armagh’s forwards saw little of the ball with Jamie Clarke bottled up every time he touched the ball, but Tony Kernan found room to get Armagh’s second point in the 26th minute. Karl Lacey and Murphy (free) extended Donegal’s lead out to 1-9 to 0-2 after a simply awesome 35 minutes of football from the reigning Ulster champions.
The scoreboard said it was over, but judging by the demeanour of the Donegal players and manager Rory Gallagher as they marched off at the break, they intended to heap more misery on Armagh in the second half.
Jamie Clarke tried to get the home side going with a purposeful run two minutes after the restart and hit the bottom of the post. He looked to have over-carried the ball but it was a good shot through a sea of bodies, but Stefan Campbell fluffed the rebound, drilling a shot into the side netting.
Ciaran McKeever tagged on a rare point for Armagh but Donegal got their second half up and running with a Marty O’Reilly goal in the 44th minute. He had the pace to pounce on a loose ball and rounded the goalkeeper before tucking the ball low into the far corner to put Donegal 2-9 to 0-4 ahead.
Having proved their point and making a huge statement about their ambitions this summer, Donegal eased up and slowed the game down. Armagh scored three points in a row through Ethan Rafferty and Tony Kernan frees and a James Morgan point. Sub Ciaran O’Hanlon also forced a great save from Paul Durcan as the intensity ebbed out of the contest.
Aaron Findon was black carded in the closing stages as Armagh’s frustration boiled over. Odhran MacNiallais kicked Donegal’s only second-half point from play in injury time but the fact Armagh ‘won’ the second half by 0-6 to 1-2 was of absolutely no consequence.
Their outstanding first half will leave their rivals, in Ulster and beyond, in no doubt that they are going to take a lot of stopping this summer. Derry are next up for Donegal on June 27, with Kieran McGeeney left to try and rebuild confidence for an assault on the All-Ireland qualifiers.
Scorers for Armagh: T Kernan 0-3 (1f), C Rafferty 0-2 (1f), A Findon 0-1, C McKeever 0-1, J Morgan 0-1
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy 0-5 (5f), P McBrearty 1-1, M O’Reilly 1-0, O MacNiallais 0-2, N Gallagher 0-1, M McElhinney 0-1, K Lacey 0-1
ARMAGH: M McNeice; F Moriarty, C Vernon, A Mallon; J Morgan, C McKeever, C Rafferty; A Findon, E Rafferty; T Kernan, M McKenna, A Forker; A Murnin, S Campbell J Clarke. Subs: M Murray for McKenna (28), K Dyas for Moriarty (30), C O’Hanlon for E Rafferty (49), B Donaghy for A Forker (56), E McVerry for Murnin (67), S Harold for Findon (BC, 69)
DONEGAL: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; M McHugh, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais; C Toye, M McElhinney, R McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, M O’Reilly. Subs: A Thompson for E McGee (HT), H McFadden for McBrearty (50), D Walsh for Toye (56), G McFadden for McElhinney (65).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)
Report: Orla Bannon