Donegal are into the All-Ireland semi-final but only just as they needed to draw on all their reserves to overcome Armagh in Croke Park on Saturday evening
Trailing by a point with just three minutes left, Michael Murphy found the range with his left to level matters and Frank McGlynn and Ryan McHugh created an opening for Patrick McBrearty to push Donegal over the line.
Armagh had two chances after that to force a draw with Tony Kernan off target with the first and Neil Gallagher fielded the second with the two minutes of added time elapsed to finally get Donegal over the line.
The win went some way to redress the pain inflictedby Armagh over Donegal in the last 15 years but there is plenty of room for improvement before Donegal meet the high-flying Dubs in the semi-final on August 31st.
It was Donegal’s most unconvincing performance in the championship in 2014 which was due in large measure to the way Armagh approached the game - very physical and with intent to push Donegal around.
The yellow card count of 6-0 to Armagh gives some idea of the way the contest was fought out. The free count of 22-12 in favour of Donegal was another telling statistic, but probably the 15 wides that Donegal hit was the real reason this game was in the melting pot until the end.
Poor opening period
After Michael Murphy opened the scoring from a free won by Odhran MacNiallais in the third minute, Tony Kernan levelled four minutes later.
With both sides defending in numbers we waited for some time for football to break out with a number of melees, started after two Armagh defenders put a headlock on Karl Lacey under Hill 16.
Armagh looked the sharper at this stage and two points from Aaron Kernan (free) and Stefan Forker had them 0-3 to 0-1 ahead in the 19th minute.
Donegal needed a spark and it was provided by Neil Gallagher who spotted Anthony Thompson on one of his forward runs. Thompson won the ball and laid it back to Ryan McHugh, who spotted Odhran MacNiallais on a forward run. From an awkward angle he fired a great shot to the net off a post to put Donegal iin front.
Stefan Campbell and Andy Mallon hit two replies to re-take the lead but two frees from Michael Murphy (won by MacNiallais and Colm McFadden) had Donegal back in front by the 28th minute.
Then Neil McGee strode forward and fired over a great point. Before the break Kyle Carragher reduced the lead but in the 35th minute Leo McLoone took two very hard tackles to win a free from which Colm McFadden had the final point of an attritional half.
Half-time: Donegal 1-5, Armagh 0-6.
The second half was equally close with Tony Kernan reducing the margin after four minutes. Prior to that a Michael Murphy effort for a point came back off the crossbar with the Armagh ‘keeper making no effort to stop it, thinking it was going over the bar.
Donegal had a sneak at a goal on 41 minutes when Odhran MacNiallais’s high effort was broken by McBrearty but Colm McFadden wisely fisted a point.
Tony Kernan again reduced the leeway but two points inside a minute from Patrick McBrearty and a Colm McFadden free opened the gap to three points for the first time. Aaron Kernan and Michael Murphy traded points while Tony Kernan reduced the gap to two again on 59 minutes.
A minute later Armagh got in for a goal with Stefan Campbell palming a cross towards the net but it came back off the post and hit Paul Durcan before ending in the net.
Donegal responded well with Neil Gallagher setting up Odhran MacNiallais for the equaliser but with eight minutes left substitute Michael Murray nudged Armagh back in front.
Then came the exciting finish with the points from Murphy and McBrearty. It almost ended in disaster when Patrick McBrearty, just off the field when substituted on 72 minutes, kicked the ball away when Armagh won a sideline and referee Marty Duffy moved the kick on 13m and in-field, but Neil Gallagher fielded Kernan’s effort to ease the Donegal fears.
Donegal: Paul Durcan (1-0,og); Eamon McGee, Neil McGee (0-1), Paddy McGrath; Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson; Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy (0-5,4f); Christy Toye, Odhran MacNiallais (1-1), Frank McGlynn; Patrick McBrearty (0-2), Leo McLoone, Colm McFadden (0-3,2f). Subs., Rory Kavanagh for Toye 42; Martin McElhinney for McLoone 56; Darach O’Connor for McFadden 58; Martin O’Reilly for McBrearty 72
Armagh: Philip McEvoy; Finnian Moriarty, Charlie Vernon, Andy Mallon (0-1); Mark Shields, Brendan Donaghy, Aaron Kernan (0-2,1f); Stephen Harrold, Aaron Findon; Aidan Forker, Kevin Dyas, Tony Kernan (0-4,1f); Kyle Carragher (0-1), Stefan Campbell (0-1, Jamie Clarke. Subs., Brian Mallon for Carragher 40; Ethan Rafferty for Findon 45; Rory Grugan for Dyas 55; Michael Murray (0-1) for Forker 58; Kieran Toner for Harrold 62.
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)