Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Jim McGuinness' Donegal men keep their cool to break Armagh hearts

Paul Grimley being held back by Kieran McGeeney

Armagh are gone, and with them, one of the most trenchant spats with the media in the game, which went up another couple of notches prior to this defeat when they refused to take a team photograph.

In the press conference afterwards, manager Paul Grimley didn't exactly rubber-stamp his own departure, but made it fairly clear when he said: "My position is irrelevant at the moment.

"There is no better man to take Armagh forward than Kieran McGeeney if that is the case, but we will see. I will be happy to do what the Armagh county board want me to do."

He also had a final bitter to-and-fro with some journalists, but judging by the timbre of his voice, you suspect his heart was not in it by this stage.

"The grievance I centred on was the reporting of the happenings before the Armagh v Cavan game. Really and truly that was the initial grievance," Grimley began.

"But it then transpired that because we took a stance the media took a nasty approach and showed an ugly side. This only enforced the decision we made."

He also appeared to contradict himself when he said: "This started over a simple gesture. We sent people down to the Ulster Championship in Belfast. Peter McDonnell represents the team management at those functions and he sat for two and a half hours and not one reporter approached him. They approached every county except him.

"So I decided that we would say nothing in the build-up to the Cavan game because apparently no one was interested."

Enough has been said on this issue by now, and in reflection Grimley might appreciate that some of his accusations at the time, implying that the written press has any influence over GAA disciplinary bodies, was fanciful.

When all the sideshows melt away and the important elements of Armagh's season come into sharp focus, they will look at this game as a huge fish that jumped off the hook.

They brought a healthy lack of respect that boiled over somewhat in the 11th minute when a number of mini-schmozzles broke out, with a member of Donegal's medical staff, Dr Kevin Moran, ending up flung to the turf by Armagh's Aaron Findon when he tried to intervene in a wrestling clinch, and Grimley indulging in a rutting stags act with Donegal's excellent Eamonn McGee.

Armagh deserved a replay and they might have got it at the very end when referee Joe McQuillan seemed to make up an entirely new rule.

With time almost up, Tony Kernan had a free just outside the 45 metre line, kicking towards the Hill 16 end. He hit it wide.

Armagh pushed up on Donegal's kickout, forcing Paul Durcan to go long. He planted the ball over the sideline. Paddy McBrearty was coming off the field having been replaced and volleyed the ball into the stand.

It was at that point that McQuillan called the ball forward, as if it were a free a couple of yards off the sideline, just outside the 45 metre line. Kernan failed to make the distance, allowing Donegal to escape with a one-point win.

What will gall Armagh is how they stretched and prodded Donegal. With just over 10 minutes left they streaked out in front when Stefan Campbell began a move, it transferred through Ruairi Grugan to Brian Mallon, who centred to Campbell whose clawing lunge pushed the ball onto the post. The rebound hit Durcan's calf and it bobbed into the net.

It was Odhran MacNiallais who took responsibility and even matters up and although Aaron Kernan nudged Armagh in front with six minutes remaining, Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty stepped up to bring Donegal home.

With manager Jim McGuinness eschewing the usual post-match pleasantries, it was left to selector Damian Diver.

"It's a funny feeling in the dressing-room," the Ardara man said. "We know the level we can play at and we didn't come near that. There were glimpses but in general we were well below par."

What will worry Donegal was their 10 second-half wides. Colm McFadden has been off-colour all Championship and his confidence won't have picked up much.

In such circumstances, Donegal got big gains elsewhere, from Neil McGee holding Jamie Clarke scoreless, to MacNiallais' smartly-taken goal and Ryan McHugh's composure, to the contribution of Neil Gallagher.

Dublin up next in the semi-final. This could be grisly.

DONEGAL: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee 0-1, F McGlynn; A Thompson, K Lacey, P McGrath; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais 1-1; C Toye, L McLoone, R McHugh; P McBrearty 0-2, M Murphy 0-5, 4f, C McFadden 0-3, 2f. Subs: R Kavanagh for Toye (42m), M McElhinney for McLoone (54m), D O'Connor for McFadden (57m), M O'Reilly for McBrearty (71m)

Yellow cards: 0 Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; F Moriarty; C Vernon, A Mallon 0-1; M Shields, B Donaghy, A Kernan 0-2, 1f; S Harold, A Findon; A Forker 0-1, K Dyas, T Kernan 0-4, 1f; K Carragher 0-1, S Campbell 1-1, J Clarke. Subs: B Mallon for Carragher (40m), E Rafferty for Findon (44m), R Grugan for Dyas (54m), M Murray 0-1, for Forker (57m), K Toner for Harold (65m)

Yellow cards: Findon (11m), Forker (49m), Campbell (53m), Toner (67m)

Black cards: 0 Red cards: 0

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

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