Gaelic GamesNFL Division 2 final

Jim McGuinness delivers silverware for Donegal after frantic endgame with Armagh

Donegal win Division Two title as Aaron Doherty kicks the winning score at the death in Croke Park

NFL Division Two Final: Armagh 0-14 Donegal 0-15

For a final that threatened to drift idly by the spontaneous outbreak of excitement in the end was quite startling. After both teams appeared to get one hand on the Division Two trophy it was Donegal who grabbed it with both in well deserving and perfectly timed style.

Ten years on from losing the Division Two final to Monaghan it also sees Jim McGuinness deliver his first piece of silverware in his second coming as Donegal manager, at the same time denying Kieran McGeeney a trophy he most likely craved a lot more.

It proved a suitably tight Northern tussle, and although Donegal were four points up going into the last quarter that all changed in the frantic endgame. Armagh suddenly stepped up a gear and hit five points without reply, Stefan Campbell and Oisín O’Neill making a telling impact off the bench, before Donegal drew level again thanks to centre back Caolan McGonagle, just as the clock headed towards three minutes of added time.

All in attendance were suddenly gripped, Oisín Gallen swinging the momentum back in Donegal’s favour before in the next run of play Oisín Conaty levelled it up again. Game properly on.


Then, just as extra-time appeared to beckon, Aaron Doherty darted forward in front of the Davin Stand and chipped over the beautifully cool winner. Armagh couldn’t find one more response in the last 60 seconds and that was that.

Given Donegal were without several first-choice players, including Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh, the result brought McGuinness obvious satisfaction, the performance of team captain Ciarán Thompson in his 100th appearance for the county of real inspiration too.

“Very much satisfying,” said McGuinness, who came bounding into the interview room with the look to match. “We’d a lot of young lads on the bus today heading to Croke Park for the first time, and with the injury list that we had, trying to manage that, we’re delighted to get the result, first and foremost.

“I felt we controlled a lot of the game as well, at 0-12 to 0-8, it probably shouldn’t have been as tight as it was in the end. That being said, you always find out more about your team, and from four points up to one point down we managed to go a point up, and that’s a big positive for us. The young lads finding their feet and a bit of character and stuff like that.

“Getting to Division One, and now a trophy, that’s brilliant for the young lads, and now we’ve three weeks to focus on Derry.”

Donegal again enjoyed a neat spread of scorers, seven in all, Thompson finishing with 0-4, Niall O’Donnell also looking sharp with three points all from play, his first league start. Jason McGee started at midfield and also made a big impression.

The sides had been inseparable in round four, and were locked tight for much of the first half, level six times in all before Donegal went one up before the break. Jarly Óg Burns and Rory Gruigan were certainly lively for Armagh, their game falling apart quite significantly in the second half, when they went 19 minutes without a score.

“I think we’re better than that, and I think we just played a wee bit flat,” conceded McGeeney, his now 10 seasons with Armagh yielding nothing more than two Division Three titles.

“We showed more of what we could do, at different stages but, it was annoying, especially when we gave the ball away when we didn’t have to, we weren’t under any pressure. It’s caused us problems in previous games but that’s the last piece of the jigsaw.”

Armagh’s scoring drought early in the second half ultimately proved costly too. “We hit the post twice, and it’s not like we weren’t creating chances,” added McGeeney, who has two weeks before Armagh play Fermanagh in the Ulster championship.

“Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t setting the world on fire but we were probably as good as what we were playing against but we were a wee bit short – hitting the post twice and the ball bouncing straight back out to Donegal fellas, not getting that advantage, Darragh pulling three wides and normally he’d put them away…

“There’s a lot in that 20 minutes that isn’t that hard to fix but it would still be annoying. I wouldn’t be slapping the forwards on the back over it but there’s definitely room for improvement. Overall it’s disappointing because again we’re better than that.”

Rian O’Neill was introduced in the 48th minute in an effort to bring Armagh back into the game only for his first notable play to be to send a free wide. Conor Turbitt finished with 0-4, adding a score during Armagh’s five-point run, and although they hassled for a goal there was no finding the breakthrough.

“We’re happy with our composure,” added McGuinness. “Making good decisions, and good incisions at the right time, getting good scores on the board. And it’s lovely to be back in Croke Park, and obviously to be going down the road with a trophy, that’s the most important thing.”

DONEGAL: S Patton; M Curran, C Moore, C McColgan; K McGettigan, C McGonagle (0-1), S O’Donnell (0-1); J McGee, M Langan; P Mogan (0-1), C Thompson (0-5, one free), L McGlynn; A Doherty (0-1), O Gallen (0-3, one mark), N O’Donnell (0-3). Subs: O McCaulfield for McGettigan, O Doherty for McGlynn (both half time), H McFadden for McGee (41 mins), J MacCeallabhu for McColgan (60 mins), C McGuinness for N O’Donnell (61 mins).

ARMAGH: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; G McCabe, A Forker, D McMullan; C Mackin, B Crealey; J Og Burns (0-2), R Grugan (0-4, one free), J McElroy; C Turbitt (0-4, two frees), A Murnin, O Conaty (0-2). Subs: S Campbell (0-1) for Forker (41 mins), R O’Niall for McElroy (48 mins), O O’Neill (0-1) for McMullen (60 mins), J Duffy for Mackin (69 mins)

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics