Delayed start but early exit as promoted Armagh reach league final

April 13, 2010

● NFL Divi 2 Armagh 2-16 Donegal 0-6

This ‘winner takes all league match’ at a sundrenched Letterkenny attracted the crowds to such an extent that the starting time was delayed by fifteen minutes to facilitate entry to the game.

With promotion and a place in the league final up for grabs the anticipation was that we would be treated to be a bit of championship style football in April. After all Donegal had just won the Ulster Under 21 title, eliminating Armagh on the way and Armagh were seeking redemption following a hat-trick of in different performances.

Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke recalled Ciaran McKeever, Barry Shannon, and Tony Kernan to the starting line out from the team which started in the win over Tipperary last time out.

A slow burning scoring start 3-1 to Armagh after 19 minutes gave little indication that a 1-6 burst from Armagh was in the offing before referee, Joe McQuillan, sounded the short whistle.

A foul on Stevie McDonnell allowed Aaron Kernan open the scoring from the free inside two minutes. Ten minutes later Stevie parted the ball to Brian Mallon but his goal effort was well smothered by his marker with a terrific block. Charlie Vernon doubled the Armagh lead before the home side got off the mark courtesy of a pointed free from corner forward Adrain Hanlon.

Raiding corner back Andy Mallon cooly slotted between the uprights for a long overdue point in this league campaign. Young footballer of the Year, Michael Murphy, raised a white flag for Donegal with their second pointed free.

A sweeping Armagh move started with a Paul Hearty save and ended with a point for Charlie Vernon after good work by Gareth Swift with 20 minutes on the clock.

A high ball from an attempted point by Tony Kernan saw Stevie McDonnell out jump Donegal goalkeeper, Paul Durcan, to punch the ball to the net for the game’s first goal. Stevie followed up the goal with a point from play and another from a free for a foul on the industrious Brian Mallon.

The impressive Ciaran McKeever made it 1-7 to 0-2 with a good point which was followed by like scores from Brian Mallon and fellow defender Paul Duffy 1-9 to 0-2 as the half time whistle approached.  There was action at both ends before the whistle, with McKeever thwarting a Donegal goal chance at the expense of a ’45’ which Murphy put wide. Donegal ‘keeper Durcan saved well from James Lavery who then put the rebound wide.

The stampede for entry was followed by a stampede for the exits as the home fans headed for the hills of Donegal. They must have not known about the second half of Armagh’s last league match with Tipp in Cross.

It only took 12 seconds into the restart to see that there was going to be no Cross repeat. Lavery won the ball gave it to Stevie and it was over the bar. Murphy registered Donegal’s first score for 22 minutes when he pointed a free following a foul on Barry Dunnion.

With his two fellow half backs on the score board Finnian Moriarity was not going to be left out. Indeed Finnian was going to go one better as he belted a Swift pass to the Donegal net to keep up his prowess as a goal scoring defender, 2-10 to 0-3.

The returned Rory Kavanagh got the first Donegal point from play on 44 minutes as Malachy Mackin replaced James Lavery. McKeever, Kernan and Brian Mallon combined for the Tir na nOg man to notch his second point. Donegal withdrew Murphy with the All-Ireland semi final with Tipperary with very much in mind and this match gone beyond redemption. A Hanlon free made it 2-11 to 0-5 as Joe Feeney replaced Swift. Stevie slotted one over from a very acute angle as Kernan shot a goal attempt wide of the upright.

Paul Hearty proved his manager’s vote of confidence with a great save from Kavanagh as Ryan Henderson replaced Tony Kernan. Donegal doubled their first half tally with a Stephen Giffin free.

Malachy Mackin pointed as Ronan Clarke made his reappearance from injury in place of Aaron Kernan and Colin Watters came in for Brian Mallon. The last three points of the match came from three Armagh substitutes Henderson, Clarke and Feeney to leave it 2-16 to 0-6 at the final whistle.

No one could have predicted that final score line or the ease with which Armagh would make the step up to Division One. As previously outlined Armagh, under Paddy, Donal and Justin, are very much a work in progress.

There a number of the U-21 Armagh side in line for a call up to the Championship panel giving that little bit extra competition for places.

A league final with Down was far from the minds of the Armagh supporters when Paddy O’Rourke was given the job as manager.

Former playing partners Paddy and James McCartan have achieved the first goal in their new position – First Division League Football for their teams. Anything else that comes along for the rest of the season for these relatively young progressing sides would be a huge bonus.

They were writing about Dublin not being in the League final diminishing the crowd. The GAA could not have got a better Division Two final pairing. Try tell Armagh or Down supporters now that the league does not matter. Funny old game football.

Donegal: P Durcan, F McGlynn, N McGee, K Lacey, M Maguire, A Thompson, K Cassidy (c), N Gallagher, E Kelly, L McLoone, C Dunne, B Dunnion, C McFadden, M Murphy (0-2), A Hanlon (0-2). Sub: R. Kavanagh (0-1), S. Griffen (0-1)

Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon (0-1), B Donaghy, B Shannon, P Duffy, C McKeever, F Moriarty (1-0), J Lavery, K Toner, G Swift, A Kernan (0-1), C Vernon (0-2), B Mallon(0-2), S McDonnell (1-6), T Kernan, subs R. Henderson (0-1), R. Clarke (0-1), M. Mackin (0-1), J. Feeney (0-1), C. Watters.