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“I don’t agree with penalties…” Donegal win but Ryan McHugh strikes a chord with many GAA fans

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RYAN McHugh came out on the winning side and the delight was plain to see on his face as he charged towards Donegal’s saviour Shaun Patton at the end of Sunday’s Ulster final.

Patton saved Shane McPartlan’s penalty and Clones erupted but, like many GAA fans, McHugh doesn’t agree with soccer-style shootouts being used to decide great games of Gaelic Football.

“You have to feel sorry for Armagh,” said McHugh.

“Personally I don’t agree with finishing a game on penalties – I lost a county championship myself on penalties.

“You have to feel for Armagh, you do. It’s not easy but they’re a great group of players with a great leader in Kieran McGeeney – he’d have been one of my role models growing up – so I’ve no doubt they’ll bounce back.”

Donegal have played Armagh three times this season and, over almost four hours of football, a single point has separated the teams. Sunday’s Ulster final loss might well have been the most sickening of the near-misses Armagh have experienced on this runaway train they can’t seem to get off. It was their second Ulster final defeat in succession and the fifth penalty shootout loss after previous defeats to Monaghan (McKenna Cup) and Galway in 2022 and Derry and Monaghan last year.

Donegal's Shaun Patton saves a penalty at the end of the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final between Armagh and Donegal at St Tiernach's  Park, Clones. Picture by Philip Walsh
Donegal’s Shaun Patton saves a penalty at the end of the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Final between Armagh and Donegal at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Picture by Philip Walsh

Penalties are a lottery but more disappointing are the winning situations – four points up in normal time, two added in extra-time – that were created but not exploited. The Armagh players will not get used to losing but a solution to solving their annual setbacks has not been found.

Meanwhile, Donegal looked like a county in decline last year but they have come storming back under the remarkable Jim McGuinness this season. Unbeaten in 11 games (eight in the League and three in Championship) they have won Division Two and now a first Ulster title since 2019.

“We’ve been through the ringer this last 12-18 months so to be back here really is unbelievable,” he said.

“I’m absolutely delighted. It was such a back-and-forth game, we looked like losing at times, we looked like winning at times… To win it on penalties, it’s unbelievable from our point of view although it’s disappointing for Armagh.

“There’s no point lying, Armagh looked like they were going to win the game when they went four ahead but thankfully we dug deep, we’ve done a lot of work in training and we always back ourselves no matter what the story is. It was the same against Tyrone – we were three down and we came back.

“Every game in the Ulster Championship is different and thankfully we gritted the teeth and got over the line.”

After the victory, McGuinness said there was too much talk of his input and said all the credit should go to the players: “They bloody did it,” he rightly pointed out.

“He (McGuinness) is inspirational all throughout the year – not just today,” said McHugh.

“We knew we had the work done and it was in our legs. We put in a big, big pre-season since we got together. We trained extremely hard and it was all for today. It wasn’t our best performance but thankfully we got over the line.”

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