Late Donegal rally defeats Armagh

January 13, 2014

● Dr McKenna Cup – Armagh 0-11 Donegal 1-10

With twenty minutes remaining Armagh led Donegal by double scores 0-10 to 0-5 only for the visitors to the Athletic grounds powered their way to 1-5 without reply to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on a 1-10 to 0-11 scoreline.

Wind assisted Armagh, who made 5 changes from the side that started against Queens, Philip McEvoy replaced goalkeeper Niall Geoghegan, Finnian Moriarty in for Gary McCooey, James Lavery replaced midfielder Stephen Harold with Stefan Forker at full forward for Eugene McVerry. The wind assisted hosts made a poor start and trailed by 2 points inside four minutes as Daragh O’Connor opened the scoring followed by a converted free from Colm McFadden. Inspired by the midfield domination of Rafferty and Lavery and the impressive link play of half backs Shields and Ciaran Rafferty the Orchard County had amassed 3 wides before Stefan Campbell hit the target following a great delivery pass from Tasker. Lavery fielded the kick-out, was fouled and took a quick free to Ethan Rafferty who levelled matters at 2-2 14 minutes into the game. The wet wind, conditions contributed to a lot of sloppy play and lost possession as Vernon, who had a great match at full back, picked up a yellow card the first of two shown by Eamon McHugh from Tyrone with Donegal substitute Neil McGee getting the second one late on in a game that saw no black cards issued in very testing weather conditions.

A dangerous high dropping free from Murphy went off the hand of Toner to end a scoreless 10 minutes as Donegal regained the lead with what was to be their last score of the half. An Oisin MacIomhair point attempt was deflected away by McGee for a “45” which was expertly converted by Ethan Rafferty to restore parity as Armagh introduced Eugene McVerry for O’Rourke. Mark Shields embarked on a 40 yard run rounded three players before shooting an excellent point to put Armagh in front for the first time. Armagh finished the half strongly with 3 points in as many minutes from MacIomhair following good work by Lavery, a long range 55 metre free from Stefan Forker following a foul on Ethan Rafferty and Tasker was on the end of a fast flowing move involving Vernon, Shields and MacIomhair to give Armagh an interval lead of 7-3.

Donegal began the second half with manager Jimmy McGuinness ringing the changes with three subs on from the outset. A foul on O’Connor left it easy for Murphy to open the second half scoring and soon after substitute Walsh made it a 2 point game. Twelve minutes after the re-start the raiding Shield offloaded to Tasker who put a goal between them with his second point of the afternoon. When Campbell added his second point and substitute McVerry split the posts Armagh looked in complete control 10-5 ahead on 50 minutes. Just introduced Gary McFadden pointed with his first touch to claw one back for Donegal with Armagh bringing on the returned from stateside Crossmaglen duo of Paul Hughes and Jamie Clarke to replace the injured Moriarty and Forker.

A 5 man Donegal move left McFadden baring down on goal but his effort was superbly stopped by McEvoy, two further goal attempts on the loose ball were heroically blocked on the line by the Armagh defenders but unfortunately their efforts were in vain as the ball was eventually bundled over the line by McFadden to reduce the deficit to the minimum 1-6 to 0-10. As if the goal was not blow enough Armagh suffered more as centre back Kieran Toner was stretchered off replaced by Ciaran McCooey. Sensing that they were back in the game, the seemingly hitherto lack lustre approach by Donegal was changed to all out action. Odhran Mac Niallais fielded with aplomb laid off to Murphy who swivelled and pointed the leveller the artistry of Murphy was further illustrated as he pointed a free out on the sideline from a near impossible angle to give his team a one point lead 1-8 to 0-10. That minimal lead was quickly doubled as Mac Niallis landed a point as 5 minutes of added time was shown. Armagh got Clarke on the ball a couple of times and he drew a foul which he kicked across the goals and was well won by McVerry who turned and gave it to Tasker who once again left the minimum between the teams. Donegal’s reply was instant as they swept downfield from the kick-out and Mac Niallais nailed the coffin shut with the last point of the match which gave Donegal their first win in the competition and revives their hopes of a place in the last four.

Armagh can feel a bit hard done by as they played really well for periods of the game with lady luck and a few enforced changes disrupting their rhythm when it looked as if they had the game there for the taking. Defensively Armagh looked very solid and the midfield pairing gave Donegal plenty of food for thought. The forwards lacked cohesion and direction as a unit but their willingness and workrate cannot be faulted. The impressive thing though is the tremendous fitness levels shown this early in the year plus the fact that there are a lot more players putting themselves forward to feature in the championship picture later on in the year. Next up are Tyrone in Omagh on Wednesday night where victory may not guarantee Armagh a place in the last four. More importantly is the fact that it will be another good test before the League commences and what better preparation than a victory over Tyrone.

Armagh – P McEvoy; A Mallon, C Vernon, F Moriarty; M Shields (0-1), K Toner, C Rafferty ; E Rafferty (0-2);  J Lavery, O’MacIomhair (0-1), K O’Rourke , S Campbell (0-2); R Tasker (0-3), S Forker (0-1),  N McConville . Subs: E McVerry (0-1) for O’Rourke, M McKenna for MacIomhair, P Hughes for Moriarty, J. Clarke for Forker, C. McCooey for Toner

Donegal –M Boyle; Declan Walsh, E McGee , E Doherty; F McGlynn, L McLoone, K Lacey R Kavanagh, M Smyth O MacNiallais (0-2); D Molloy; T McKinley  C McFadden (1-1).  M Murphy (0-4), D O’Connor (0-1),  Subs: David Walsh (0-1) for Molloy, N McGee for Lacey, L Thompson for McKinley, N Gallagher for Smyth, G McFadden (0-1) for Kavanagh, S McLoughlin for O Connor