24 NOV 2020
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ruthless Donegal HUMBLES ORCHARD

18 November 2020 - by elaine@newryreporter.com

Armagh’s Ulster Championship quest ended with a whimper on Saturday afternoon in Breffni Park and Kieran McGeeney’s midweek message to his men, ‘it’s time to put on the big boy pants and step up,’ just didn’t happen against a ruthless Donegal outfit.

Geezer couldn’t hide his disappointment in his post-match interview, “Sport regrets should be about the misses - not that you didn’t even try,” said McGeeney, who emphasised that it’s not a lack of talent or ability that led to such a heavy defeat - he feels there is enough of both in his squad - but the disappointing reality was that Armagh just didn’t show up on the day - particularly in the first half.

“I suppose, from our point of view, we had a decent year, but for the first time this year I thought we were very timid and very weak and we didn’t have a go at them, standing still on the ball, and it is really disappointing stuff. It is not what we trained to do, and it is very hard to watch it. You don’t mind sometimes in past with the teams that didn’t have the capabilities to go at teams, but we do at the minute and that is probably the most disappointing part,” said the manager.

Thirteen different scorers for Donegal tells its own tale, and a half-time lead of 1-12 to 0-4 reiterates that tale. 

Donegal had a strong wind at their back in the first half, but realistically this match was over before the advantage went the other way. Armagh scored nine points to Donegal’s 10 in the second half, but that didn’t reflect a much stronger half for them, and in any case the damage was long done, and the Tir Conaill men could well afford to take their foot off the pedal.

There were just 12 seconds on the clock when Michael Langan ran through the middle and opened the scoring with an easy point.

Donegal won the kick-out and Eoin McHugh shot into Armagh keeper Blaine Hughes’ arms. 

Armagh got up the field after that, with the O’Neill brothers combining to set up their potential opener but Oisin O’Neill sent his effort wide of the mark and Eoghan Ban Gallagher made no mistake with his reply at the other end. 

James Morgan won a free for Armagh in the sixth minute, and Rian O’Neill converted to get the men in Orange off the mark, and the score was level at 0-2 apiece by the eighth minute with another free from the younger O’Neill brother. 

That was as good as it got for Armagh however, as they became timid in their attacks and a lot of loose passes gave Donegal the upper hand and they really began to impose their superior quality on McGeeney’s men with eight unanswered points in the next 21 minutes.

Stefan Campbell’s effort fell short and with that Donegal broke forward and got the ball to Jamie Brennan who wriggled past two markers in the corner and put the ball over the bar. Oisin O’Neill was denied by the upright in the next Armagh attack and after a missed opportunity by Rory Grugan, Peadar Mogan and Caolan McGonigle made it 0-5 to 0-2 at the first water break.

Frees from Hugh McFadden and Niall O’Donnell continued Donegal’s dominance after the restart, with seven different scorers making it even more impressive. 

Armagh looked to be in real trouble in the second quarter and that was where the real damage was done.

Further points from McGonigle, Ryan McHugh and O’Donnell made it 0-10 to 0-2 with 30 minutes on the clock before Oisin O’Neill scored a good point to stop the rot and Rian converted another free bringing it back to a six-point game at 0-10 to 0-4.

If Armagh thought they were going to get back in the game with that, they were sorely mistaken.

 On 34 minutes Mogan got on the end of a high ball meant for Murphy with Aidan Forker beaten. He cut inside from the right-hand corner and lashed into the net.

That was a huge blow for the men in orange, at such a crucial stage in the match and further points from Langan and McHugh made it 1-12 to 0-4 at the half-time whistle.

Two converted frees for Rian O’Neill narrowed the margin slightly after the restart, but a super point from Ciaran Thompson preceded a narrow miss from a good effort by Jemar Hall, who replaced Conor O’Neill at half-time.

Thomson then converted a free before Jamie Clarke made it 1-14 to 0-7 with the first Armagh point from play in the second period but replies from Brennan and Paddy McBrearty, who was only on as a sub, made it an unassailable 1-16 to 0-7 at the second water break.

Donegal didn’t have much more to do at that stage but see the game out as it was clear there was no way back for Armagh.

Points from Niall Grimley (free), Oisin O’Neill and Conor Turbitt (free) with a pointed free in response from Donegal captain Michael Murphy, got Armagh into double digits 1-17 to 0-10  with 10 minutes left on the clock, but Declan Bonner’s men continued their onslaught with further scores from Mogan, Murphy (free) and Andrew McClean putting them 13 points ahead 1-20 to 0-10. 

Two more frees from Rian O’Neill and a good score from play from Oisin O’Neill were answered with points from Oisin Gallen and Langan. Armagh came close to putting a slight gloss on the scoreline with Hall getting on a good ball from Oisin O’Neill from a mark, but he didn’t get a clean contact and was dispossessed. Then another good ball into the square for sub Ethan Rafferty, saw the Grange man denied a goal twice, firstly by Donegal keeper Shaun Patton and then by a defender on the line. With that the final whistle blew time on a disappointing end to Armagh’s championship campaign.

“I was very disappointed with the first half - we didn’t have a cut at them in the first half,” said McGeeney.

“We were standing still, especially in the first period there were loads of scoring chances and one-on-one positions when we didn’t go at them and that is probably the most disheartening thing,” he added.

“Then in the second period they were trying to squeeze passes in against a first division team. 

“That is what happened us this year, but we just haven’t got punished to the same degree. 

“At least they come out in the second half and I suppose had a cut at it and I suppose we were going for goals and a lot of points were missed but we had to do it to make that up. 

“They [Donegal] weren’t in their customary defensive shape and we had chances to go at them and we have the players to go at them - we just didn’t do it.”

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