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Armagh manager Paul Grimley grins and bears it as Donegal strike late

By John Campbell

Armagh manager Paul Grimley contends that his side is on a learning curve as they continue to journey through the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup.

But in sport, as in other walks of life, lessons can be learned the hard way.

Grimley's feisty outfit offered abundant courage, unrelenting effort and a surprisingly high ration of skill against Donegal at the Athletic Grounds yesterday, but succumbed to a double blow in the final quarter when they conceded the only goal of the game in the 59th minute and then lost defenders Finian Moriarty and Kieran Toner to injury.

"While it was a big blow for us to concede a goal and then lose two players to injury, these are the kind of setbacks that you will suffer and we have to learn to accept this and try and push on," said Grimley.

"I thought our tackling for the most part was good and we took some scores in a period just before half-time that helped to put us in a good position.

"I thought that after Donegal got the goal they might be able to push on and win and that's the way it turned out, but our work-rate and honesty were admirable."

The 2012 All-Ireland champions asked questions of the Armagh defence in the opening quarter yet the Orchard County remained very much in the touch by the 28th minute when the teams were deadlocked at 0-3 each with Darragh O'Connor, Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy on target for the visitors while Stefan Campbell and the impressive Ethan Rafferty (2) landed Armagh points.

And then Grimley's men, as if drawing on hidden reserves of self-belief, unleashed a seven-minute scoring blitz immediately prior to the interval that saw them strike four points without replay.

Mark Shields, Oisin MacIomhair, Stefan Forker and Robbie Tasker all found the range as the Donegal defence was clinically lacerated and Armagh swept into a 0-7 to 0-3 interval lead.

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness introduced Neil McGee, Leon Thompson and David Walsh at half-time and when they were followed from the bench by Neil Gallagher they began to compete more vigorously at midfield.

Yet Tasker, Campbell and substitute Eugene McVerry posted points that eased Armagh ahead by 0-10 to 0-5 but after Donegal substitute Gary McFadden swung over a fine point, a bombardment of the home citadel eventually saw Colm McFadden crash the ball to the net.

A further brace of points from Murphy and another from impressive newcomer Odhran MacNiallais sealed victory for Donegal.

McGuinness, though, is picking his step carefully.

"This was a very good run-out for us which is what we wanted. We have had a lot of injuries and we're getting players back gradually," said the Donegal boss.

"Armagh scored points before the break when we got tired and then we got a few scores near the finish when we had the breeze. I thought after we got the goal we might be able to win the game and that's the way it turned out."

Armagh: P McEvoy; A Mallon, C Vernon, F Moriarty; M Shields, K Toner, C Rafferty; E Rafferty, J Lavery; O MacIomhair, B Mallon, S Campbell; R Tasker, S Forker, N McConville. Subs: E McVerry for O'Rourke (28 mins), M McKenna for MacIomhair (42), P Hughes for Moriarty (57), J Clarke for Forker (58), C McCooey for Toner (61). Yellow card: Vernon (22 mins).

Scorers: R Tasker 0-3, S Campbell 0-2, E Rafferty 0-2 (0-1 '45'), E McVerry, S Forker, M Shields, O MacIomhair 0-1 each.

Donegal: M Boyle; Declan Walsh, E McGee, E Doherty; F McGlynn, L McLoone, K Lacey; M Smyth, R Kavanagh; O MacNiallais, D Molloy, T McKinley; C McFadden, M Murphy, D O'Connor. Subs: N McGee for Doherty, L Thompson, for T McKinley, D Walsh for D Molloy (all half-time), N Gallagher for Smyth (47), G McFadden for Kavanagh (55), S McLaughlin for O'Connor (60). Yellow card: N McGee (67 mins).

Scorers: M Murphy 0-4 (0-2f), C McFadden 1-1, O Mac Niallais 0-2, D O'Connor, D Walsh, G McFadden 0-1 each.

Referee: Eamon McHugh (Tyrone).

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