FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN BALLYSHANNON
DONEGAL are at the joystick of their own destiny heading into Sunday’s final series of matches in Division 2.
Jim McGuinness’s side face Armagh at the Athletic Grounds with the simple mathematics of it all meaning that a win – or draw – for Donegal and they will be both promoted and into a Croke Park final without the need to check the results elsewhere.
A six-point win over Louth, a 1-19 to 3-7 success over Louth, was littered with both the sublime and the ridiculous on a peculiar sort of afternoon at Fr Tierney Park.
The upshot of it all is that Donegal head for Armagh with Division 1 now firmly in their sights again.
Sunday’s game sees Donegal up against a familiar foe in Armagh, whom Donegal relegated to Division 2 in 2012 with a win in Ballybofey on the last day. This time, the Orchard – with Kieran McGeeney back in the control room on Paul Grimley’s backroom team – are in anxious mode themselves after a defeat in Galway leaves them looking for a win to ease fears of a drop to Division 3.
“There’s bite going into the last game,” said Donegal skipper Michael Murphy.
“It’s not a game which doesn’t mean anything. It means something and all of our games so far have meant something, which is crucial.”
Donegal appeared out of sight against Louth after cruising through the gears to lead 0-13 to 0-1. Out-of-sorts Louth had given up the ghost and Donegal were in command.
When Paul Durcan only touched down a Declan Byrne ball into the danger zone late in the first half, Paddy Keenan was first to reach and blasted to the net. A crazy 55th minute saw Louth hit two further goals as Keenan tucked home after Adrian Reid caught a wayward Durcan kick-out and the Brian White cut Donegal’s lead to just three points.
A David Walsh goal eased the worries, though, and Donegal survived when Louth piled the pressure on.
“Most of the performance we would be very happy with and then, obviously, some of the other issues we’re very disappointed with,” was McGuinness’ immediate reaction.
“Two of the goals, we felt we shouldn’t have conceded and that took the gloss off it a wee bit.”
Four days after the Armagh fixture, McGuinness and his troops fly out to Portugal for a training camp. And the manager would dearly love to be in the warmth plotting for both a League final and the looming Ulster Championship clash with Derry.
He said: “If we were lucky enough to get through next week we would have another one in the lead-up to the Derry match. That’s why we’d like to win next week. We’d have a couple of weeks then to prepare for a League final. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to plan for that.
“We have had a very good League campaign. We’re absolutely delighted with the League. We’ve got a lot of tough battles and a lot of tough challenges. We got to try out things and test different things.”
Frank McGlynn (hamstring) and Neil Gallagher (groin) sat out yesterday’s game and Martin McElhinney wasn’t risked after he complained of feeling unwell in the dressing room. All three are expected to return next week, as is Karl Lacey who was withdrawn at the interval in Ballyshannon having taken a bang to his knee.
The Louth manager and Armagh native Aidan O’Rourke cut a frustrated figure as he dissected the lively affair.
He said “Donegal were out of sight before our lads even realised they were in a contest.
“I’m obviously very disappointed that we waited until the second half before we started to play any football and ultimately that cost us our Division 2 status.”