Armagh 0-13 Donegal 0-10
Between these two rivals, the battle lines were clear, take two points and inflict the lasting sting of a head to head if needed down the relegation road.
The importance of Armagh’s Division 1 win was made very clear on Saturday night at the Athletic Grounds when the home crowd burst on to the field to greet their successful heroes after a gutsy three point victory over Donegal.
“Where Donegal were, where we were, it was extremely important and we knew that coming into the game,” said Armagh coach Kieran Donaghy afterwards.
“This League is so tough, Kieran McGeeney has done an amazing job in the eight years to come from Division Three to Division One and a lot of those players have been through that process.
“You don’t want to go down to the dogfight of Division Two and to stay in Division One is absolutely massive for us.”
That want showed, as Rían O’Neill grabbed the game’s most vital moments with Donegal’s attack looking woefully blunt in the absence of Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty.
There is structure around O’Neill that allows Armagh to seize the initiative while the Tír Chonaill think-tank of Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Bradley summoned midfielder Hugh McFadden off the bench to become an unlikely focal point as a makeshift full forward.
Having trailed 0-7 to 0-3 at the break, due in part to Armagh’s intimidating defending, McFadden’s influence provided tired Donegal minds some clarity in the midst of the orange squash to reduce the gap to one point.
For the second time in the game, Orchard full forward Andrew Murnin flicked a low shot over the bar that in itself would make you think it was more by design than accident in its creation. In contrast, Donegal went for broke trying to steal the round with a flurried finish to rattle off three unanswered scores, again reducing the deficit to the minimum for the second time in the half.
Losing Donegal manager Paddy Carr agreed: “We let the handbrake off then and really started going at them and again it is frustrating because it is not through any lack of effort, it just came down to some poor decision-making.
“We certainly still showed plenty of glimpses there that we can play football but look, it’s a disappointing day because we know ourselves that there’s very little between ourselves and Armagh.”
The little on the night was a certain O’Neill. Notching the insurance free and a crowd pleasing catch in front of his own goalmouth, the talisman like his team-mates, braced himself for the barrage of supporters that greeted him, significantly, at the final league whistle in March.
Armagh: E Rafferty (0-1, free); P Burns, B McCambridge, A Forker (0-1); A McKay, G McCabe, J McElroy; C Mackin, J Óg Burns (0-1); J Duffy, C Cumiskey, S Campbell (0-1); R O’Neill (0-5, four frees, one 45), A Murnin (0-3, one mark), C Turbitt.
Subs: T Kelly for Duffy (56 mins), R Grugan (0-1, free) for Turbitt (58 mins), R McQuillan for Campbell (61 mins), N Grimley for Cumiskey (71 mins).
Donegal: S Patton (0-2, one free, one 45); M Curran, B McCole, C McColgan, D Ó Baoill, S McMenamin, P Mogan; M Langan, J McGee (0-1), C McGonagle, E Bán Gallagher, C Ward; C O’Donnell (0-1), O Gallen (0-2, frees), J Brennan (0-1).
Subs: H McFadden (0-2, one mark) for Ward (34 mins) C Thompson (0-1) for McColgan (49 mins), R O’Donnell for Gallen (62 mins), J McKelvey for Gallagher (67 mins).
Referee: J Henry (Mayo)