HomeFootballJim McGuinness and Donegal bag another Ulster title following dramatic penalty shootout...

Jim McGuinness and Donegal bag another Ulster title following dramatic penalty shootout over Armagh

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For the fourth time in three years, and the second successive Ulster football final, Armagh have lost a penalty shoot out to exit a major competition.

It comes on top of the successive All-Ireland quarter-finals against Galway and Monaghan which were also, cruelly, lost from the spot.

The psychological impact of this once more may well be felt in the weeks, even years ahead as it really felt like the moment for this team.

After an absorbing 100 or so minutes it went to penalties and almost inevitably Armagh were left regretting what might have been before it got to this stage.

They didn’t score for the last 23 minutes of normal time, including three minutes of added time, and it wasn’t until the 77th minute when Andrew Murnin broke that deadlock, 27 minutes in all. Too long for a team with ambition like them to break a deadlock that is now stretching into a 17th year without a provincial title.

Both sides despatched their first five penalties – Ciaran Thompson, Aaron Doherty, Michael Langan, Jason McGee and Dara Ó Baoill for Donegal, Shane McPartlin, Oisin Conaty, Conor Turbitt, Aidan Nugent and Tiernan Kelly for Armagh.

But in sudden death Armagh blinked first, with Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton saving from McPartlin second time around after Doherty had scored first.

For Donegal it is quite a remarkable turnaround from where they were 12 months ago, a broken team and a broken county.

But the return of Jim McGuinness has transformed them and they are back as Ulster champions for the first time since 2019.

For McGuinness this is a fourth from five attempts, underlining his desire for his Donegal teams to be Ulster champions before they are anything else.

They did it the hard way too, beating Derry, Tyrone and now Donegal on the tougher side of the Ulster draw.

For Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney this was a 10th successive season in charge without a provincial triumph and will make the road ahead a very hard one for them, especially in a group now that has Galway, Derry and Westmeath.

It was the third successive year that the Ulster final went to extra-time and while it was a gripping encounter it failed to create a goal chance of substance.

Armagh got ahead by two points in the second period of extra-time, through substitutes Oisin O’Neill and Aidan Nugent, but almost inevitably, given how they were locked together for so much of it, Donegal pegged them back, Ó’Baoill and Odhran Doherty on the mark.

Armagh had led after the first period of extra-time too, 0-18 to 0-17, and it appeared as if their moment had arrived. But once again they just couldn’t press on and finish it, just as they couldn’t in the last quarter.

Anything thrown at them that they are ‘the team afraid to win’ was justified in that period as through that third quarter they really looked like they had an iron grip on it.

Whatever Donegal threw at them was repelled and for some time it really looked like Donegal had run out of ideas.

But perhaps Armagh got comfortable sitting back on the ropes waiting for the bell and reluctance set in.

Two marks, taken by substitute Jarlath Óg Burns and Stefan Campbell went backwards when it was in the melting pot, difficult positions but still, worth a go.

Donegal had their own ‘black out’ period, failing to score from the 29th minute to the 50th minute when Niall O’Donnell posted the first of two magnificent scores that, in the conditions, required a bit of fortitude.

O’Donnell got a second point even better than the first, the first of four in succession that Donegal got to close a 0-15 to 0-11 gap that had been established through Stefan Campbell’s second point.

Both sides made pre-game changes that made it clear that defence would be a priority, Greg McCabe replacing Óg Burns on the Armagh side and Eoghan Ban Gallagher coming in for Donegal.

But as cagey as that threatened -and it became at times – there were still bouts of urgency and sharp play when both sensed it was the right time to go for it. It was all about picking those moments.

A feature of the first half was the accuracy from both teams, 19 from 24 shots converted, even as the last 10 minutes were played out in a downpour.

At the end of it Armagh were just ahead, 0-10 to 0-9, having been level six times.

What stood to Armagh was the speed of the response to almost every Donegal score.

There was more than one point in it twice, when Donegal nudged two clear, 0-5 to 0-3 and 0-6 to 0-4.

Oisin Gallen and Conor Turbitt stood out in opposition with Gallen scoring four from five, off left and right, and Turbitt landing three, including one 43-metre gem to put Armagh 0-7 to 0-6 clear on 23 minutes.

But inevitably Donegal were back at them, Gallen coming in on the loop and on to a slipped Niall O’Donnell pass for parity.

They were level twice before Ben Crealey got into a good position, took a mark and converted it for that interval lead.

But Donegal got fresh legs in to the game at the right times through the second half and in Shane and Niall O’Donnell and Peadar Mogan they had players who were relentless with their running and evasion of Armagh’s big tacklers..

Scorers – Armagh: C Turbitt 0-4, A Nugent (1f) 0-3, A Murnin, O Conaty, S Campbell, B Crealey (1m) 0-2 each, R O’Neill (m) R Grugan, A Forker, O O’Neill, C Mackin all 0-1 each

Donegal: O Gallen 0-6 (2f), N O’Donnell, S O’Donnell P McBrearty (1f), D Ó Baoill, P Mogan all 0-2 each, M Langan, J McGee, J MacCalllbhuí, O Doherty all 0-1 each

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; J McElroy, C Mackin, A Forker, G MCCabe; R O’Neill, B Crealey; O Conaty, S Campbell; A Murnin, C Turbitt.

Subs: Óg Burns for McCabe (55), A Nugent for Turbitt (67), T Kelly for Forker (70+1), O O’Neill for Crealey (66), J Duffy for McElroy (e-t), O Doherty for Gallen (72), J Hall for McGrane (79), S McPartlin for Mackin (80), C Turbitt for R O’Neill (85)

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, B McCole, C Moore; P Mogan, R McHugh, C McGonagle, EB Gallagher; J McGee, M Langan; S O’Donnell, C Thompson, D Ó Baoill; O Gallen, N O’Donnell.

Subs: C McColgan for Curran (h-t), P McBrearty for Moore (42), A Doherty for Ó Baoill (46), J Brennan for Gallagher (55), J MacCeallbhuí for Thompson (67), D O Baoill for N O’Donnell (80), C Thompson for McBrearty (87)

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