Clarke double dumps dismal Donegal

June 29, 2010


On his home turf Jamie Clarke quickly turned this tough round one qualifier encounter with Ulster rivals Donegal into a mere stroll in the park for Armagh as he bagged two goals in the opening five minutes which effectively killed off the challengers in this first ever championship match hosted at St Oliver Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen.

Rarely has so much been decided in the opening five minutes of a championship match. With question marks hanging over both teams following their Ulster championship defeats, numerous changes made to both teams by their respective managers the talented Crossmaglen youngster supplied all the answers early on with a Man of the Match performance.

In the first real attack corner-forward Clarke cleverly turned Paddy McGrath with ease only to see his goal strike superbly stopped by Donegal custodian Paul Durcan but Jamie was ever alert to bury the rebound low to the net for a tonic start to what would have been a fragile Armagh mindset following the drubbing from Monaghan the last time out. Charlie Vernon fired over a point and The Orchard County were up and at it but Donegal’s main threat Michael Murphy (He finished with 7 points) converted the first of his four frees during the course of the match. A long ball into the square from Steven McDonnell was caught by the Crossmaglen ace in between two Donegal defenders and as he turned Jamie spilled the ball from his grasp but had the presence of mind to slide the ball along the ground to beat Durcan for the second time. Clarke’s early brace of goals knocked the stuffing out of Donegal, who never really got into the game as Armagh emerged nine-point comfortable winners to book their place into the second round of the qualifiers.

Paddy O’Rourke was without the suspended Brian Mallon who was replaced by championship debutant Anto Duffy brother of Armagh’s best player the last day out, Paul. The injured Finnian Moriarty was replaced by half -time substiutute from the Monaghan game Kevin Dyas. In a surprise late change due to a working accident for Kieran Toner O Rourke plucked home player Francis Hanratty from obscurity for a championship debut in which the Crossmaglen youngster did justice to the faith paid in him by the manager.

Rival manager John Joe Doherty also ran the changes from the team which lost out in extra-time to Down. Mark McHugh, who was one of the stars of the Donegal under 21 team which reached the All-Ireland final earlier this year, was named at right half forward in place of Barry Monaghan following his impressive cameo appearance against Down. Colm McFadden was recalled to the attack in place of the suspended Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy with Paddy McGrath introduced at right corner back allowing Frank McGlynn to move to wing back and Barry Dunnion switch to the centre with team captain Kevin Cassidy now partnering Neil Gallagher at midfield. Rory Kavanagh, who lined out at midfield against Down despite wearing the number 10 jersey, takes over the centre forward slot from Christy Toye.

The Tir Chonaill changes did not work with McGrath who was marking Clarke withdrawn and replaced by Eoin Wade after just 11 minutes of play but all through the game Armagh easily exposed the Donegal defence.

Given the early goals Armagh were much more on the offensive than the defensive with Clarke and Gareth Swift replying with points to Murphy’s first from play for Donegal to put the scores at 2-3 to 0-2. Anto Duffy’s debut was short-lived as he was taken off injured and replaced by Joe Feeney with the Maghery man taking his chance when given as he contributed two points from play his first following great work by Vernon despite taking a few heavy hits. Aaron Kernan opened his account by latching on to a breaking ball and cut in from the wing for a good point. Murphy was the only Donegal threat as he pointed a free but first half hero Clarke took his tally to 2-2 before a fifth minute injury-time Colm McFadden Donegal point closed the scoring to leave it 2-6 to 0-4 at the short whistle.

Yes folks we all had said where would the Armagh scores come from if Stevie McDonnell was held. Yes Stevie played his part in the opening half laying on some good scores with Armagh retiring at the break with 2-6 and nothing chalked down to the Killeavy ace.

Murphy ploughing a lone furrow, tried to ignite the Donegal flame at the strat of the second half with a pointed free but then Armagh put the game to bed with a four point purple patch. Stevie followed a beauty from play with a converted free before the very impressive hit two points on the trot as the home side stormed into an unassailable 11-point lead with a half-an-hour remaining.

Murphy and Aaron Kernan traded frees and when substitute Adrian Hanlon blazed a rare Donegal goal chance over the bar one knew that the last throw of the dice for Donegal was wasted as Stevie notched his third point of the half, from out on the left.

Donegal did manage two points in succession as Murphy and his Glenswilly club-mate Neil Gallagher cut the deficit, but once again it was only momentarily as Vernon ran through the middle of the Donegal defence before parting to Feeney who pointed. Mark McHugh became the fifth Donegal player to register a point as a second yellow card for Eamonn McGee only added to the Donegal woe. Murphy brought his personal tally to 0-7 in the closing stages, but there was still enough time for two of Armagh’s most influential players to combine as Swift made a superb fetch from the kick-out and fed Aaron Kernan for his third point and a 2-14 to 0-11 win.

Donegal, on the day, were poor but one can only beat what is put in front of you and Armagh did that in the same style as they had done so in the league. To be able to go in with so many changes to your side and start without your two regular midfielders and still win by 9 points can only lead to more positives especially on the back of the last performances. The qualifiers are all about showing and producing that little bit extra over the course of each round. In the year that the Holy Grail was reached it was a young man by the name of Clarke which paved the way to the promised land. Another young namesake has put Armagh in the hat for the second round of qualifiers. If you look over the whole of the championship there are no real outstanding teams. Armagh are trawling through a panel of experienced and very talented in-experienced players at this top level who have one thing going for them in that the majority of them have tasted national success. The job on Saturday was to beat Donegal and stay in the championship and that mission was completed with a bit in hand. With confidence restored with that win Armagh can go on to better things. There are a lot more teams out there who would not like to be paired with Armagh as the Orchard County seem to revel in the bigger challenges rather than carry the mantle of favourites. Management and players had to up the ante given the dismal Monaghan performances and they did so enlightening the spirits of the die hard Orange clad support which is visibly on the wane more through economics than the way the team is performing.

Armagh – P Hearty, A Mallon, B Donaghy, V Martin, P Duffy, C McKeever, K Dyas, C Vernon (0-1), M Mackin, A Duffy, A Kernan (0-3, 1f), F Hanratty, G Swift (0-3), S McDonnell (0-3, 1f), J Clarke (2-2). Subs – J Feeney (0-2) for A Duffy, P McKeown for Mallon, T Kernan for Hanratty.

Donegal – P Durcan, P McGrath, N McGee, K Lacey, M Maguire, B Dunnion, F McGlynn, N Gallagher (0-1), K Cassidy, M McHugh (0-1), R Kavanagh, D Walsh, C McFadden (0-1), M Murphy (0-7, 4f), C Dunne. Subs – E Wade for McGrath, E McGee for Maguire, C Toye for Dunne, A Hanlon (0-1) for McFadden.

Ref – M Duffy (Sligo).