Referee Maurice Deegan was the central figure in Armagh’s ultimately facile 3-11 to 1-10 victory over Donegal as he dismissed no less than four players – some with very scant justification - at Clones today.

Armagh were quite awesome in spells, extremely average in others, while Donegal had one of those days they will want to forget.

Now it's Joe Kernan who takes his side to Casement Park for an Ulster semi-final clash with Derry, while Brian McEniff is bound for Aughrim to take on Wicklow in the qualifiers.

Both sides created goal chances in a dramatic opening, first Paul Hearty saving superbly from Brian Roper.

Armagh executed their opportunity, however, Clarke giving them a dream start with a fourth minute finish. He appeared to have blown it when he failed to hold Oisín McConville's neat pass, but recovered to belt low to the corner of the net.

It was just the tonic Joe Kernan's men needed, and the ferocity of their tackling and quality of their support play was evident right through the first half.

Steven McDonnell was finding acres of space wide on both flanks, and Brian McEniff tried three markers on the Killeavey ace in the first half alone, Niall McCready giving way to Shane Carr, before Eamon McGee was handed the thankless task.

McDonnell was twice the man he had been in the drawn game, firing over two gems, and profiting revelling in the service he received from Paul McGrane, Philip Loughran and McConville.

Brian Roper and Michael Hegarty tried all they could to kick-start Armagh's challenge, and while Adrian Sweeney did win a handful of frees which were despatched by Brendan Devenney and Colm McFadden, they just didn't have the cutting edge they needed to rip open a tenacious, pumped up Armagh defence.

Enda McNulty looked well worth his recall, and in the other corner, Andy Mallon turned defence to attack with poise and polish, while Aaron Kernan complemented his defensive duties with three first half scores, two of them from frees.

And at the heart of it all, Kieran McGeeney was back to his assured best.

Donegal failed to score from play in the opening half, but they still weren't far away at the break, trailing by 1-7 to 0-5.

Goalscorer Clarke failed to appear for the second half after picking up an ankle injury, but still the agony intensified for Donegal.

They were reduced to 14 men when defender Eamon McGee picked up a second yellow card nine minutes into the second half, and two minutes later, goalkeeper Boyle was picking the ball out of the net for a second time, after McDonnell had given him no chance with a sweet finish.

Soon Brian McEniff had just 13 players on the field, Roper also picking up a second yellow midway throiugh the half, and it was showtime for Armagh.

Sub Malachy Mackin finished off their third goal after McDonell's effort had come back off a post.

Laois referee Maurice Deegan wasn't finished yet. Another incident saw Donegal full forward Adrian Sweeney and Orchard full back Francie Bellew receive straight red cards, but the 12-man Tir Chonaill outfit somehow conjured a goal.

Christy Toye's scything run was finished off by Brendan Devenney, and with 10 minutes to play, at 3-9 to 1-8, a glimmer, just a glimmer of hope was on offer.

But that faint light soon faded, and two Martin O'Rourke points sent Armagh through on a high.

Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon, F Bellew, E McNulty, A Kernan (0-3, 1 free), K McGeeney, A McCann, P Loughran, P McGrane, M O'Rourke (0-2), J McEntee, O McConville (0-1), S McDonnell (1-3, 1 free), R Clarke (1-1), B Mallon.

Subs: M Mackin (1-0) for Clarke (h-t), A O'Rourke (0-1) for McCann (42 mins), T McEntee for J McEntee (47 mins), J Toal for McGrane (62 mins), K McElvanna for A Mallon (64 mins)

Donegal: M Boyle; E McGee, B Boyle, K Lacy, N McCready, S Carr, D Diver, B Monaghan, N Gallagher, C Toye, M Hegarty, B Roper, C McFadden (0-6, 5 frees, 1 '45'), A Sweeney, B Devenney (1-4, 4 frees). 

Subs: R Kavanagh for McCready (h-t), S McDermott for Boyle (43 mins), B Dunnion for Diver (62 mins), R Bradley for Devenney (68 mins)

Referee: M Deegan Laois