If there were points for gallant losers Donegal would have taken something out of yesterday’s game against Armagh, in the Athletic Grounds.
There were five points between the sides at the finish and Armagh were the better outfit over the 70 minutes. But great credit must go to Donegal who refused to surrender against a physically stronger side as they twice battled back from being well behind to be still in the tie until the closing minutes.
Donegal trailed by three points at the end of the first half after twice being on level terms in the closing second quarter. This was after a slow start and going 0-5 to 0-1 down after 18 minutes. A Bernard Lafferty goal on 21 minutes brought a battling Donegal back into a tie that was drifting away from them against an Armagh outfit who were finding the going slightly easier in the difficult conditions.
Ryan Gaffney with three frees and one ‘65’ - and Conor Corvan were the early Armagh scorers while Lee Henderson converted from a ‘65 on six minutes.
Lafferty, who was denied by Simon Doherty, the Armagh keeper with a point blank save minutes earlier, capitalised on poor handling from the ‘keeper when he failed to hold a long range Ronan Doherty strike for a point. Lafferty flicked to the net from close range.
With Donegal finally rising to the challenge they matched the Orchard boys for the next ten minutes and twice drew level thanks to points from Henderson, Ciaran Mathewson and Doherty before Gaffney brought the curtain down on the half with two late close-in frees to send the locals in three up at the break.
Gaffney and Henderson traded early scores on the resumption before Artie McGuinness got on the end of a long delivery to poke the ball past Paul Burns, for the Armagh goal.
And when the eagle eyed Gaffney and midfielder Conor McKee tagged on two quick pooints the margin was out to eight points, 1-13, to 1-5, with 20 minutes left.
But a super Henderson goal on 51 minutes revived the Donegal men and when Henderson and Lafferty added two quickfire points the margin was down to three again.
Henderson’s goal was a super team goal that began at the back with Brendan Tourish finding Enda McDermott up along the wing. McDermott in turn swiftly transferred to Ciaran Mathewson, just inside the Armagh half. Masterson laid off to Henderson who charged through the heart of the Armagh defence and while Doherty did well to stop his initial strike, Henderson following up slammed home from five metres.
McKee and Corvan responded with white flags at the other end to ease Armagh five in front again.
But Donegal refused to throw in the towel and Henderson, who missed a close in free at the start of the second half, pointed to keep the men from the North West in touch.
And despite losing Mathewson to a second yellow card, both shown in quick succession, Donegal battled bravely to the finish.
Gaffney and Henderson swapped scores before Gaffney, who ended the game with a personal tally of 13 points, closed out the game with two late points.
Donegal had many good perfomances with Henderson once again the top scorer with 1-7 to his name at the finish. Bernard Lafferty ended up with 1-1 and Ciaran Mathewson and Ronan McDermot also got their names on the scoresheet and also turned in big performances.
Mathewson and McDermott really came good after a slow start and once they found their rhythm they proved a constant threat to a much vaunted Armagh rearguard.
The real heroes of this performances were in defence where new kids on the block Brendan Tourish and Marty Callaghan, either side of Martin McGrath, turned in big perfomances.
McGrath was outstanding at full-back while Jamsie Donnelly and Niall Cleary were others who did not let the side down on a day and pitch that was not condusive to fast flowing and open hurling.
Donegal: Paul Burns; Brendan Tourish, Martin McGrath, Mark Callaghan; Pauric Doherty, Jamsie Donnelly, Niall Cleary; Ronan McDermott (0-2), Paul Sheridan; Eddie Lynch, Lee Henderson (1-7,3F, 2,65), Enda McDermott; Bernard Lafferty (1-1), Kevin Campbell, Ciaran Mathewson (0-1). Subs: Stephen Gillespie for P Doherty (46); Chris Kilgallon for B Lafferty (60).
Armagh: S Doherty; A McGuinness (1-0), C Clifford, Liam Woods; N Curry (0-2,1F), S Reneghan, K McKenna; C McKee, P Hughes; P Kelly, C Corvan (0-2), J O’ Connor; C Carvill, R Gaffney (0-13, 9,F, 2,65), E McGuinness (0-1). Subs: C McAnallen for P Kelly (46); D Coulter for J O’ Connor (46);P Lappin for I McGuinness (64) C Hannaway for A McGuinness (66).
Referee: C Cunning (Antrim)