Armagh totally overpowered a disappointing Donegal side to win back the Anglo Celt Cup in emphatic fashion today at Croke Park.
Just as the 3-15 to 0-11 final scoreline suggests, the Orchard men were dominant in almost every area of the park as Donegal never came to terms with Armagh's gritty, industrious defending and direct, incisive attacking play.
Not since their 2002 All-Ireland victory have Joe Kernan's charges looked so hungry for success and the convincing nature of the win, combined with Kerry's shaky Munster final performance today, will surely see them installed as favourites to lift Sam Maguire.
Even after 13 minutes if looked ominous for Donegal when they trailed by four points. They managed to stay in touch until the 28th minute when goalkeeper Paul Durcan's indecision allowed Diarmuid Marsden to fist into the net.
Donegal trailed 1-9 to 0-4 at the break, but, to their credit, emerged a more positive outfit after the interval - Damien Diver, Brendan Devenney and substitutes John Gildea and Rory Kavanagh providing Brian McEniff's men with slightly more attacking guile. However, Armagh pulled away in the final ten minutes.
Paddy McKeever, excellent throughout, netted one of the goals of the championship in the 63rd minute when he finished off a stunning one-two passing movement. And Oisin McConville put the icing on the cake in the 70th minute when more swift attacking exchanges saw him ghost in to coolly slot home his side's third goal and leave Donegal's Ulster title dream in tatters.
Right from the start Armagh looked the sharper side, with captain Kieran McGeeney particularly catching the eye despite doubts over his match fitness in midweek.
Niall McCready struggled in his early exchanges with Steven McDonnell, who got the first score of the game in the second minute, pointing superbly from wide on the right. Three minutes later McDonnell again escaped his marker McCready to score from a similar angle.
Donegal, on the other hand, were struggling to trouble Armagh. On the one rare occasion that they did force their way near to Armagh’s goal Aidan O’Rourke made a crucial interception when a goal seemed possible.
Brendan Devenney was one of the few positives Donegal would take from the first half. He consistently won his duels with Enda McNulty and the many free kicks he earned suggested that Armagh’s blanket defence was not totally impenetrable.
A McConville break almost yielded a goal in the ninth minute, however, Ronan Clarke fisted over the bar from close range when three points was a real possibility. McKeever then put Armagh four in front in the 13th minute when he punished Durcan’s suicidal clearance.
A foul on Devenney four minutes later allowed Colm McFadden, the star of the show against Tyrone but decidedly out of sorts today, to land his side’s first score of the game from a relatively simple free.
That buoyed Donegal and Adrian Sweeney was unlucky to narrowly shoot wide after a free-flowing passing movement. And it looked like Donegal had finally woken up when Devenney pointed from a 21st minute free before Michael Hegarty reduced the gap to just one point two minutes later.
But Armagh never allowed Donegal to level affairs. McConville pointed from free in 24th minute and then got one from play in the 25th minute, finishing off a prolonged spell of possession in style.
A fired-up Devenney won another free at McNulty’s expense in the 27th minute, which McFadden sent over the bar.
A minute later, Kieran Hughes ventured forward to latch on to a quickly taken Clarke free-kick, only to see his shot saved by Durcan. But the goalkeeper soon turned from hero to villain when he misjudged the flight of the resulting 45 from McConville. A hopelessly flailing Durcan could only watch as Marsden’s fist rose above the Donegal defence to cushion the ball to the back of the net.
Marsden followed that up with a point from play in the 30th minute to stretch Armagh’s lead to six points.
A Stephen McDermott wide was symptomatic of Donegal’s inability to create enough clear cut chances against the swarming Armagh backs – the midfielder forced to try from distance with other options at a minimum.
Rory Kavanagh replaced the injured Christy Toye just before the break as two more McKeever points extended Armagh’s lead to eight – 1-9 to 0-4.
In an attempt to bolster his side’s weak midfield, McEniff introduced Gildea for McDermott at the start of the second half. Undoubtedly Donegal began more positively, a McFadden goal attempt hitting the crossbar before Brian Roper pointed from the rebound.
But, as usual, any Donegal progress was quickly negated by Armagh - Tony McEntee, easily one of Armagh’s most solid performers today, firing over a 40th minute point.
Sub Kavanagh notched a good point for Donegal after an excellent solo run by Hegarty in the 41st minute. Devenney missed another good chance from a free in the 43rd minute but made no mistake four minutes later after Brendan Boyle was fouled.
Again, though, there was no let up from Armagh - Philip Loughran getting his only score of the game after a McKeever effort had come back off the post in the 48th minute.
But with McCready now getting the better of McDonnell and McNulty second best to Devenney there was still a glimmer of hope for Donegal at this stage. McFadden, who missed a clear cut chance in the 51st minute, and Sweeney converted a free apiece to close the gap to five with 14 minutes remaining.
Armagh’s experience and determination was again in evidence, though, when Marsden pointed in the 57th minute. Donegal refused to give up as Gildea scored a 58th minute point after good work from Barry Monaghan.
Armagh’s increased profligacy in front of goal must have been worrying manager Kernan - McKeever becoming the latest offender when he shot a close range effort wide in the 61st minute.
But the number ten more than made amends two minutes later when he and McDonnell conspired to cut through the Donegal defence before McKeever smartly placed the ball past Durcan with a sweet left-foot strike.
McFadden got what was to be Donegal’s last point in the 66th minute. Substitute Brian Mallon pointed in the 67th minute.
McConville then took his personal tally to 1-3 when another devastating passing movement put him in the clear to calmly place the ball to back of the net.
It was all over for Donegal now, but Tony McEntee still had time to nonchalantly add another point to complete the rout.
Earlier at Headquarters, Down and Tyrone drew the minor final, 0-11 apiece. The replay will take place next weekend. The venue has yet to be confirmed.
Filed by James Boylan