Donegal bowed out of the Nicky Rackard Cup despite putting up a magnificent performance against Armagh in the Athletic Grounds.
Often in hurling there is no substitute for class..those wristy flicks and feints that separate artists from artisans.
It would be easy to say that a physically superior Armagh side had more ash artists than Tir Conaill, but that would not be necessarily true.
For Donegal matched their more experienced Ulster opponents in skill, but it was the more mundane physical stakes that was the real difference between the sides.
For the largely bigger and stronger Armagh boys scooped up the vast majority of 50-50 balls and the breaks around the middle of the field in this very well contested affair in Armagh.
The winners also had a firm platform in the middle of the field where the towering John Corvan and Shea Gaffney put the lighter Danny Cullen and Paul Sheridan under pressure from the off.
And burly Down-based full forward Eoin McGuinness posed plenty of problems for Jamesie Donnelly as well as grabbing the all- mportant opening goal after just five minutes.
Despite the disparity in physique and experience, a game Donegal side kept battling to the bitter end.
Once again Ronan McDermott made heroic efforts to penetrate a packed Orchard County rearguard.
He did manage to breach that sturdy defence on one memorable occasion in the 44th minute when he booted the sliothar to the net.
Sixty seconds later he struck a fine long- range point from play and suddenly Armagh’s lead was cut to 1-11 to 1-7 after the home side deservedly led by 1-9 to 0-5 at the interval.
But that was the pinnacle for Tir Conaill in the second half as Armagh struck a few long range frees to firmly avert any hopes of an upset as the winners won quite comfortably in the end.
However this Donegal team put up a great effort and should be proud of the fact that they managed to stay in the more competitive Division Two B section for another year.
Armagh had a few comfortable victories in this section and generally lived up to their pre-match billing as favourites.
Apart from Gaffney, crisp striking corner forward Conor Corvan and centre forward Cathal Carvill caught the eye.
In patches, Danny Cullen showed his real class while Ciaran Matthewson’s frees kept Donegal almost in striking distance for long periods.
Nathan Curry opened the scoring for Armagh with a cleanly struck 65 metre free after two minutes.
But Donegal were struck an early severe blow when Kevin Campbell, who was so impressive against Monaghan, had to go off injured.
Ray Durack threw on Lee Henderson on as a sub as his Sean MacCumhaill’s club mate Ciaran Matthewson levelled matters with a well struck free from 55 metres.
Powerful Orchard County wing- back Connor Devlin stretched the Armagh lead with a fine point from play.
This was quickly cancelled by an Enda McDermott point for Tir Chonaill but tht was as good as it got for Ray Durack’s men in the opening half.
For Armagh struck with deadly effect for the crucial score of this half through Down based full-forward Eoin McGuinness.
John Corvan stretched the Armagh lead by a point in the 7th minute before busy Armagh centre forward Cathal Carvill hit a long ball deep into the Donegal defence.
McGuinness had loads of space inside as he first timed the sliothar towards the top corner of the Donegal net.
Tir Chonaill keeper Dylan Lafferty got his stick to the ball but could only guide it into his own net.
That set the tone for Armagh’s dominance of the opening half as they repeatedly outmuscled their lighter opponents.
Donegal had a great chances of getting back into proceedings but centre forward Sean McVeigh could only watch in horror as his fiercely struck shot was deflected across the goals by Armagh keeper Simon Doherty.
Danny Cullen then picked up a yellow card after he fouled Connor Devlin in the 23rd minute.
Armagh tapped over a few more points from the inevitable Gaffney to put them in front by 1-9 to 0-5 at the interval.
All but one of Donegal’s scores came from placed balls in that half.
The third quarter was most competitive especially after McDermott’s booted goal.
But, try as they might, Donegal just did not have the power to penetrate the Armagh defence to close that ever- tantalizing gap.
However Ray Durack’s team has certainly raised he standard considerably in the past few years, and has taken Tir Conaill to a vastly improved level.
Let’s hope they can build on a mostly satisfactory season for next year.
Afterwards Donegal team manager Ray Durack declined to comment on the match.
Armagh: S Doherty, S Renaghan, C Clifford, C McKee; K McKernan, N Curry (0-2) C Devlin (0-1); J Corvan (0-2), S Gaffney; R Gaffney (0-8 3 65’s) C Carvill (0-2) D Coulter; M Moan, E McGuinness (1-1) C Corvan (0-2). Subs: D Carvill (0-1) for D Coulter (53), O Curry for C McKee (60), R Conway for C Devlin (65) P Kelly for E McGuinness (65).
Yellow card: D Coulter (35)
Donegal: D Lafferty, J O’Loughlin, J Donnelly, M Callaghan; C McDermott, J Boyle, N Cleary; D Cullen, P Sheridan (0-1); C Matthewson(0-7, 7f), S McVeigh, E McDermott (0-1) K Campbell, R McDermott (1-2) B Lafferty. Subs: L Henderson (0-1,f) for K Campbell (inj 4), C Kilgannon for M Callaghan (40)
Yellow cards: D Cullen (23), E McDermott (35), J Donnelly (39) J Boyle (42)
Referee: C Cunning (Antrim)