Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Uladh

Ulster SFC Final: Armagh v Donegal – Match Preview, Team Lineouts, Pivotal Players, Key Match-Ups, Previous Meetings

May 12th, 2024


Armagh v Donegal

St Tiernach’s Park Clones, 4pm (Live on RTÉ 2 and BBC2 NI)

Referee: Martin McNally (Muineachán)

This evening there will be sheer joy on one side and a gut-wrenching defeat on the other. One that will really hurt.

Today is box office, a proper showdown. The All-Ireland series will come into view when it comes into view.  Armagh are craving silverware and a first Ulster title since their replay win over Fermanagh in 2008.

They had one hand on the Anglo Celt Cup last year but were not able to outwrestle Shane McGuigan and came up against Odhrán Lynch’s diving frame in the penalty shoot-out drama.

For Donegal, it will be their 11th Ulster Final in the 14 years since Jim McGuinness brought nourishment to end their famine.

It’s a first without Michael Murphy. Derry outran them two years ago but Jim’s secret sauce, fuelled by chinning Derry, has them believing again. Really believing.  Of the 16 times he has led Donegal over the whitewash in the Ulster Championship, their 2013 final defeat to Monaghan is the only blemish.

Armagh were able to create overlaps for goals against Fermanagh that Down closed down in the semi-final. It backed Geezer’s men into another tight corner.  The sniff off an upset would have been oh so pungent in the Orchard nostrils but their game management was on the money. And it was their bench. Oisin O’Neill plucked a ball to score.  Then it was time for the Cullyhanna duo. Jason Duffy and Aidan Nugent were down the stretch with Ballyhaise on the same Clones sod. And they answered again with the points that booked the Orchard County’s ticket to Ulster’s biggest show.

The last time the sides met in a final, it was Paul McGrane’s goal that separated the sides in the 2006 final, 1-9 to 0-9.  Today his nephew Peter McGrane, their find of the season, is eyeing a fourth goal in all competitions.

With Aaron McKay and Paddy Burns the likely chaperones for Oisín Gallen and Niall O’Donnell, does it prompt Jim McGuinness to leave Patrick McBrearty on the bench. Chasing McGrane won’t help Donegal finish off Armagh the way the skipper came on to hammer the final nail into Tyrone.

Armagh will also have eyes on Shaun Patton during the warmup. Gavin Mulreaney, a minor winner eight years ago in Clones, can kick it as long but Patton’s are quicker and pen defences back.

Donegal’s camp will ponder the Armagh scenario over Stefan Campbell. He was the man who packed the only significant punch they had in the league final. Is that where Jim keep’s clubmate Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí in reserve, to throw on and track Campbell?

Plenty of questions and the answers will unfold over the rest of the afternoon. Let the battle begin…


  1. Blaine Hughes
  2. Paddy Burns
  3. Aaron McKay
  4. Peter McGrane
  5. Joe McElroy
  6. Ciaran Mackin
  7. Aidan Forker
  8. Rian O’Neill
  9. Ben Crealey
  10. Stefan Campbell
  11. Rory Grugan
  12. Jarly Óg Burns
  13. Oisin Conaty
  14. Andrew Murnin
  15. Conor Turbitt
  16. Ethan Rafferty
  17. Barry McCambridge
  18. Connaire Mackin
  19. Conor O’Neill
  20. Greg McCabe
  21. Tiernan Kelly
  22. Jason Duffy
  23. Oisin O’Neill
  24. Shane McPartlan
  25. Aidan Nugent
  26. Jemar Hall


  1. Shaun Patton
  2. Mark Curran
  3. Brendan McCole
  4. Ciaran Moore
  5. Ryan McHugh
  6. Caolan McGonagle
  7. Peadar Mogan
  8. Jason McGee
  9. Michael Langan
  10. Shane O Donnell
  11. Ciaran Thompson
  12. Daire O Baoill
  13. Patrick McBrearty
  14. Oisin Gallen
  15. Niall O Donnell
  16. Gavin Mulreany
  17. Kevin McGettigan
  18. Stephen McMenamin
  19. Odhran Doherty
  20. Domhnall MacGiolla Bhride
  21. Jeaic MacCeallbhuí
  22. Caolan McColgan
  23. Jamie Brennan
  24. Aaron Doherty
  25. John Ross Molloy
  26. Cathal MacAonghása


Pivotal players 

Rian O’Neill 

Injuries have hampered the start of O’Neill’s season, but he has returned to the Armagh side in full fitness at just the right time. The Crossmaglen star had his first 70-minute outing this season against Down a fortnight ago, and he produced an effervescent display which epitomised his importance to this Armagh side.

Seemingly playing everywhere from the midfield onwards throughout his career, his omnipresent qualities are sometimes thought to be both a strength and hindrance for the Orchard County.

Too influential to simply station at full forward, manager Kieran McGeeney has posted O’Neill at midfield with allowance for his natural attacking instinct to flourish. Playing with the head up and facing the goal, O’Neill is able to compete and create in the middle third while being an attacking threat beyond the 45’, evidenced by three classy points against the Mournemen.

O’Neill was Armagh’s top scorer last year across the board and has been every year bar one since making his debut in 2019. Whether it’s on the front foot or toiling in centre-field, his performance this afternoon will be crucial to an Armagh triumph.

Ryan McHugh 

When Ryan McHugh heard his former manager Jim McGuinness was coming back, returning to the Donegal fold himself after a year out was a no-brainer. The Kilcar man decided to take a break from inter-county football last year, but that hiatus looks to have done him the world of good as he has come back re-energised for Donegal’s Ulster title charge.

One of three survivors from McGuinness’ first tenure a decade ago (along with Paddy McBrearty and Hugh Gallagher), McHugh has looked like the sprightly dynamo that burst onto the scene back in 2014 when he won Young Footballer of the Year.

He terrorised Derry every time he ran at them, breaking through to score two points as Donegal grew into the game and picking up the break to play in Dáíre Ó Baoill for a crucial first half goal.

Against Tyrone he once more had a hand in everything, playing a key role in the build-up to Brendan McCole’s late equaliser and finishing strongly as Donegal secured victory in extra-time.


Manager Head to Head

Kieran McGeeney

Now in his tenth year at the helm, Kieran McGeeney has steered Armagh back to the Ulster Final for a second successive season. Last year’s penalty shootout defeat to Derry was their first appearance on that stage in 15 years.

With Clare boss Colm Collins standing down last year, McGeeney’s tenure makes him the longest serving manager on the inter-county circuit.

McGeeney succeeded Paul Grimley as Orchard County manager back in 2015 and in that time they’ve steadily established themselves as one of the top teams in the country and perennial Ulster contenders.

Penalty shootout misfortune has also saw them bow out to Galway and Monaghan in All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

‘Geezer’ of course captained Armagh to a historic first and only All-Ireland title in 2002, winning three All-Stars in an iconic playing career that spanned 15 years. He was also part of the 1999 Ulster winning Armagh team that will be celebrated as the Centenary team at Clones this afternoon.

He previously managed Kildare from 2007 to 2013, guiding them to an All-Ireland semi-final in 2010 – but is now looking to consolidate the progress his native county team has made in recent years by capturing their first Anglo-Celt Cup since 2008.


Jim McGuinness 

Jim McGuinness’ return to the Donegal hotseat attracted big headlines when announced last August, and it was the shot in the arm the county needed following a disappointing 2023 season.

He was previously appointed to the job in late 2010 when Donegal football was at a similarly low ebb after a comprehensive All-Ireland qualifier defeat by Armagh.

A year later, Donegal won the Ulster title by beating Derry in the provincial final and while they were beaten by eventual champions Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final, the Tir Conaill men secured an emotional Sam Maguire Cup triumph a year later after beating Mayo in the decider following their retention of the Anglo-Celt Cup.

McGuinness stepped down as Donegal boss following their All-Ireland Final defeat by Kerry in 2014, but arguably left a tactical imprint on the game that lasted for years afterwards.

In the years between his Donegal stints he turned his hand to soccer, taking various coaching roles at Celtic, American college side Charlotte Independence, Chinese club Beijing Guoan and Derry City.

The Glenties man had an 11-year playing career with Donegal, being part of the county’s first All-Ireland winning team in 1992. He has also notably won three Sigerson Cup medals.


Key Match-Ups

Brendan McCole v Conor Turbitt 

McCole marshalled the threats of Darragh Canavan and Shane McGuigan well in the previous outings, and he could be Donegal’s man to take on Turbitt. The St Naul’s man showed his willingness to get forward as Donegal sought to draw level against Tyrone in the dying moments, popping up with the crucial late equaliser to push the game to extra-time.

Clann Eireann forward Turbitt offers selfless running as well as pace and width to the Armagh attack. His goal against Fermanagh was laid on a pate, but evidenced his attacking instinct to be able to be at the finishing end of Armagh’s attacking moves. Always an outlet, he’ll be a menace especially if he finds space for an early point or two.

Jason McGee v Ben Crealey 

Cloughaneely man McGee has produced two colossal midfield displays so far. One of Donegal’s most physically dominant players, he is a great outlet for Donegal’s kick-outs. Against Derry his flick-ons were central to a Donegal gameplan which yielded four goals, and he kicked two crucial scores for himself early in the second half against Tyrone to get McGuinness’ men back into the tie.

Crealey stands well over six foot himself, and well capable of dominating aerial exchanges himself as he did throughout the quarter final against Fermanagh. The Maghery man’s work rate and ability to compete in the midfield exchanges can provide a platform for Armagh to thrust forward and put the ball in the hands of their potent forward players.

Oisin Gallen v Paddy Burns 

Gallen was held scoreless from play by Padraig Hampsey a fortnight ago in Celtic Park, so he’ll be keen to make his mark this afternoon. Still ever reliable from the dead ball if given the chance, he cooly dispatched his penalty against Derry to put his side in well in control against the holders. Even when not shooting the lights out, he possesses the fitness and tenacity to play a key role, and will require close attention.

Paddy Burns has been enjoying a fine season in Armagh’s full-back line, having started every single league and championship game in 2024 having been ruled out of last year’s Ulster campaign by injury.

He helped set the tone against Fermanagh, tigerishly tearing into challenges, getting hands in and giving nothing easy for the Erne forwards as Armagh got into their stride in the first half.

Three Previous Meetings

Ulster SFC Quarter Final – 24/4/2022 

Dún na nGall 1-16 Ard Mhacha 0-12 

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois) 

On a perfect day for football, Donegal led by three at the short whistle.  A brilliantly worked team goal saw Patrick McBrearty palm home after a trademark Ryan McHugh burst to leave it at 1-10 to 0-6 early in the second half.

Good scores by Stefan Campbell and Ben Crealey got them back to within touching distance until late scores from Patrick McBrearty ensured Donegal secured a seven point victory and a place in the Semi Finals.  Michael Murphy top scored with 0-6 while Patrick McBrearty notched 1-2 and Armagh’s Rory Grugan hit 0-5.

Donegal scorers: M Murphy (0-6), P McBrearty 1-2, M Langan 0-3, E B Gallagher 0-1, J McGee 0-1, C Thompson 0-1, S O’Donnell 0-1 & C O’Donnell 0-1.

Armagh scorers: R Grugan 0-5, G McCabe 0-1, J Og Burns 0-1, T Kelly 0-1, C Turbitt 0-1, S Campbell 0-1 & O O’Neill 0-1.


Ulster SFC Semi Final – 14/11/20 

Dún na nGall 1-22 Ard Mhacha 0-13 

Referee: David Coldrick (An Mhí) 

Armagh were simply blown away by a rampant Donegal in this semi final clash at Breffni Park. Donegal registered 13 different scorers across the 70+ minutes of championship football, as their pace and power was simply too much for Armagh to handle.

Having entered the game with a fair degree of optimism given their victory over Derry at Celtic Park in the previous round, Armagh were hopeful of claiming a major scalp in the shape of the current provincial champions. But they never got to grips with the Donegal men, who right from the off were in the groove. They opened up a 12 point lead by half time, with Peadar Mogan getting the goal just before the break to end the game as a contest.

Ciaran Thompson, Niall O’Donnell and Caolan McGonigle all landed superb scores for Donegal, who could afford to take their foot off the pedal well before the full time whistle. Rian O’Neill battled right to the end and finished with seven points, but Armagh were simply outclassed in every area.

Armagh: B Hughes, P Burns, R Kennedy, J Morgan, C O’Neill, A Forker, M Shields, O O’Neill (0-1), S Sheridan, R Grugan, G McCabe, S Campbell, J Clarke (0-2), R O’Neill (0-7), J Óg Burns. Subs: N Grimley (0-1) for S Sheridan, J Hall for C O’Neill, A Murnin for J Óg Burns, E Rafferty for A Murnin, C Turbitt (0-2) for R Grugan.

Donegal: S Patton, S McMenamin, N McGee, E Bán Gallagher (0-1), R McHugh (0-2), P Brennan, P Mogan (1-2), H McFadden (0-1), C McGonigle (0-2), C Thompson (0-2), N O’Donnell (0-2), M Langan (0-3), E McHugh, M Murphy (0-2), J Brennan (0-2). Subs: J McKelvey for S McMenamin, A McClean (0-1) for P Brennan, P McBrearty (0-1) for J Brennan, O Gallen (0-1) for E McHugh.

Ulster SFC Quarter Final – 14/06/15 

Dún na nGall 2-11 Ard Mhacha 0-08 

Referee: David Coldrick (An Mhí) 

A first half blitz from Donegal at the Athletic Grounds stunned the home support, as a Michael Murphy inspired Donegal advanced in the Ulster Championship once more. An early goal from Paddy McBrearty was a sign of things to come, as Donegal continually turned over the Armagh attack and punished them in style at the opposite end.

Leading 1-9 to 0-2 at half time, Martin O’Reilly added another goal within 10 minutes of the restart to stretch the lead further. Many wondered how Donegal would adapt to championship football once again following their All-Ireland Final defeat the previous September, but they showed no ill effects with a comprehensive victory that will have many of their provincial and All-Ireland rivals taking notice.

Donegal scorers: M Murphy 0-5, P McBrearty 1-1; M O’Reilly 1-0; O MacNiallais 0-2; K Lacey, N Gallagher and M McElhinney 0-1 each.

Armagh scorers: T Kernan 0-3; J Morgan, C McKeever, C Rafferty, A Findon and E Rafferty 0-1 each.

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