DONEGAL 2-12 ARMAGH 0-10
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT ST TIERNACH’S PARK
DONEGAL are Ulster Minor Champions for the first time since 2006 as Declan Bonner’s side stormed to an eight-point win over Armagh in the Clones curtain-raiser.
John Campbell’s first-half goal helped Donegal roar into a commanding lead – which stood at eleven points at one stage in the second half – and Jamie Brennan batted home a second in added time after Armagh had battled their way into it.
Donegal made hard work of it for a time in the second half, but they still scored a comfortable and deserved final win. Eight points was the margin when a halt was called, but Donegal should have been more commanding winners.
Campbell fired home in the 14th minute and they led 1-9 to 0-2 at the interval.
When Lorcan Connor had a 35th minute penalty saved by Colm Rafferty – who was just on the field after Ryan Kearney was black carded – Armagh sensed that Donegal were starting to question themselves.
The nerves were understandable but the ever-swelling green and gold followers shouted their side home and there was a fitting finale when Brennan batted home from a dropping ball by sub Niall Friel.
It completes a Minor League and Championship double for Bonner’s boys, who have won Buncrana Cup (U16), Jim McGuigan Tournament (U17) and now a Minor Championship after the Fr Murray Cup was added to Niall Harley’s clutches.
Donegal took just 35 seconds to open their account, as Brennan slotted over after being teed up by Cian Mulligan.
While there was a scare for the Tir Chonaill lads when Jarlath Óg Burns fired wide after snapping at a loose ball on the 20m line.
It was only a momentary lapse for Donegal, though, as – led by the excellent Danny Monagle – there was pretty much a watertight group in front of Danny Rodgers. Their strong running attacks soon had them well in command of things.
Connor (free) and Stephen McBrearty had the economical Donegal men three clear in the ninth minute.
Donegal powered clear when the bustling frame of Campbell, after being sent on his way by Michael Carroll’s pass, surged through the heart of Armagh’s rearguard. They were left torn in tatters as the big Buncrana man thundered to the net to give Donegal a six-point lead in the 14th minute.
Seconds later, after Donegal took possession from the kickout, Carroll magnificently arched over.
McBrearty and Campbell – with a superb effort from long range – had a ten-point gap opened by the time the Orchard hit their opening score in the 21st minute, through Oisin O’Neill.
Armagh’s miserable first half was compounded when they lost wing-back Cathal Boylan to a black card in the 27th minute. Boylan was penalised for a late and high challenge on Connor as the Downings man sped through.
Connor dusted himself off to point the free and he added another late in the half, after Brennan was denied by a brave block from Fergus Quinn.
Donegal had a chance to really put the game to bed when they were awarded a penalty five minutes into the second half after Armagh goalkeeper Ryan Kearney was adjudged to have impeded Jamie Brennan.
While the awarding of the penalty couldn’t be disputed, referee Ronan Barry was perhaps a little over-zealous in flashing the black card to Kearney. His replacement, Colm Rafferty, stood to face a penalty from Connor for his first action and he got down to his left to save a tamely hit spot kick with Andrew McClean wide from the rebound.
Even though it took a goal-line intervention from Eoghan Bán Gallagher to prevent Cathal Donnelly’s flicked effort going in, Donegal didn’t look to be in danger of letting the tie slip in any way.
It took them twelve second-half minutes to register, Connor firing over a free, but they hit three in quick succession as McBrearty and Brennan had eleven between them by the midway point of the second half.
That point from Brennan came just seconds after Rodgers denied Ryan Hughes with a save at close range. Armagh were in search of goals, but Rodgers kept the sheet clean with a brilliant stop to keep out a smashing effort by Kyle Mallon and Conor McNicholl had another hopeful attempt crash off a post.
Armagh reeled off a series of points with Conor Cullen, a sub, hitting three, in a late rally, but Donegal got the second goal their efforts deserved when the well-placed Brennan applied the finishing touch.
Ulster Minor Champions for the sixth time – after previous wins in 1956, 1985, 1991, 1996 and 2006 – Donegal advance to an All-Ireland quarter-final meeting with Roscommon, the beaten Connacht finalists, on the August Bank Holiday weekend with hopes high of a lasting surge into the autumn.
DONEGAL: Danny Rodgers; Danny Monagle, Ciarán Gillespie, Colm Kelly; Cian Mulligan, Tony McClenaghan, Andrew McClean; Niall Harley, Caolán McGonigle (0-1, 1 ’45); Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Lorcan Connor (0-4, 3f), Michael Carroll (0-1); Jamie Brennan (1-2), John Campbell (1-1), Stephen McBrearty (0-3).
Subs: Niall Friel for Mulligan (half-time), Ethan O’Donnell for Campbell (42 mins), Conor Doherty for Harley (53 mins), Christian Bonner for McClean (55 mins), Connall O’Boyle for O’Donnell (black card, 58 mins), Gavin McBride for Connor (60 mins).
ARMAGH: Ryan Kearney; Fergus Quinn, Aidan Rushe, Cathal Donnelly; Cathal Boylan, Cathair McKinney, Conor McNicholl; Jarlath Óg Burns, Shane Conlon; Jack Rafferty, Oisin O’Neill (0-3, 1f), Kyle Mallon; Ryan Hughes (0-4, 1f), Conor Grimley, Caolan McConville.
Subs: Conor Cullen (0-3, 1f) for Boylan (black card, 27 mins), Colm Rafferty for Kearney (black card, 35 mins), Ryan McKeown for Grimley (42 mins), Conor Murphy for Conlon (49 mins).
REFEREE: Ronan Barry (Down).