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Hot Donegal fire out a stark warning

Armagh 0-8 Donegal 2-11

By Declan Bogue

Published 15/06/2015

Damage done: Donegal’s Martin O’Reilly is on target during a stunning performance against Armagh
Damage done: Donegal’s Martin O’Reilly is on target during a stunning performance against Armagh

There are statements sent out by some teams, and then there are overwhelming portents of doom for all those that might stand in the way of an irresistible force.

All the ingredients were here for an Armagh show of defiance; a hot day, a packed Athletic Grounds and a roasting atmosphere. But the team never delivered their side of the bargain.

Instead, Donegal crushed them with sheer pace, industry and a coolness and fluidity to their play that has rarely been seen in Gaelic football.

When it was announced that Colm McFadden would not make the starting line-up, (missing with a virus) the wonder might have been who would spearhead Donegal's attack. That puzzle was solved after two minutes.

McFadden's absence was turned into a positive by boss Rory Gallagher when he isolated Paddy McBrearty on James Morgan and peppered that area with quick ball.

The ploy produced the first score of the game when Odhrán MacNiallais won the break from an Armagh kickout and transferred to midfield partner Neil Gallagher, who hoisted a high ball in towards McBrearty who caught above Morgan.

His first shot was blocked by goalkeeper Matthew McNeice, but the rebound was rammed to the net.

Donegal had tagged on two more points when a repeat of the McBrearty-Morgan link almost paid off only for the former to lose his footing.

Armagh defender Ciaran McKeever went onto the Kilcar man in what appeared like decisive fire-fighting. In their first race for the ball, McKeever won it with a clean interception, but, puzzlingly, resumed his sweeper role straight after.

This was unquestionably a bad day on the sideline for Kieran McGeeney. Kevin Dyas may not have trained in three weeks, but from his introduction on the half hour he showed his worth.

Most glaringly, it took a full half-hour before Tony Kernan was relieved of the nightmare of tracking Ryan McHugh's runs and they sent on Michael Murray to keep a tighter watch.

As well as McBrearty's goal, the scores kept flowing for Donegal. A short kickout failed Armagh and allowed Neil Gallagher to get on the scoreboard.

MacNiallais added a spectacular effort, McBrearty chalked one up from 50 metres and Martin McElhinney added a point to the superb Michael Murphy's three converted frees to leave it 1-7 to 0-1 with only 27 minutes gone.

The Orchard County created a couple of chances but could not staunch the Donegal attack as they went in at half-time 0-2 to 1-9 down.

Jamie Clarke had to delve deeper for ball and produced a mazy run three minutes into the second half before unleashing a grubber shot that hopped up onto the post. Presented with an empty goal with the rebound coming at him unexpectedly, Stefan Campbell could only blast into the side netting.

Dyas began to pick up breaking ball from kickouts, but it was wasted with another wide from Campbell. Despite practically owning the ball for the first 10 minutes of the second half, Armagh could only gather one point.

By way of contrast, Donegal applied the hammer blow on 45 minutes. Neil Gallagher tipped a free to Murphy, who went on a run through the middle.

The ball squirted out to Martin O'Reilly who had all the time in the world to gather, round McNeice and clip to the net.

Twelve points the margin with 25 minutes to go, it seemed odd that Armagh were allowing Murphy a free role unmarked in the middle of the field.

For long stretches, Donegal looked as if they were already well into their recovery session on Rossnowlagh beach, tossing the ball about with hand passes.

By contrast, Armagh were pedestrian and unimaginative. They insisted in carrying into contact and had no focal point of their attack.

Armagh's full-forward line of Clarke, Campbell and Andrew Murnin were left entirely scoreless.

By the 68th minute, they had completely given up, with forwards standing with their hands on hips, not chasing Donegal men on the ball only a matter of yards away.

There was also the sense that during the second half, Donegal stopped showing any more potential ploys and tricks and contented themselves with lying back on the lead.

Armagh's chance for redemption will come on June 27 with a home tie against Wicklow, who couldn't muster up a team for a challenge game the week before they lost out against Meath yesterday.

As for Donegal, that same evening they will be contesting the Ulster semi-final against Derry in Clones, who will surely reprise their 'Death of Football' formation deployed and trialled against Dublin in the National League.

They will need that... and more.

Armagh: M McNeice; F Moriarty, C Vernon, J Morgan 0-1; A Mallon, C McKeever 0-1, C Rafferty 0-1; A Findon 0-1, E Rafferty 0-1, 1f; T Kernan 0-3, 1f, M McKenna, A Forker; A Murnin, J Clarke, S Campbell. Subs: M Murray for McKenna (30m), K Dyas for Moriarty (31m), C O'Hanlon for E Rafferty (52m), B Donaghy for Forker (57m), E McVerry for Murnin (69m)

Yellow cards: Morgan (47m), Clarke (63m)

Black cards: Findon (68m, replaced by S Harold)

Red cards: 0

Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; F McGlynn, K Lacey 0-1, R McHugh; N Gallagher 0-1, O MacNiallais 0-2; M McHugh, M McElhinney 0-1, M O'Reilly 1-0; C Toye, M Murphy 0-5, 5f, P McBrearty 1-1. Subs: A Thompson for E McGee (h-time, inj), H McFadden for McBrearty (52m), D Walsh for Toye (57m), G McFadden for McElhinney (69m), E Doherty for O'Reilly (70m).

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