It was another case of so near and yet so far for Donegal against Armagh in Saturday’s first round Nicky Rackard Cup clash in the Athletic Grounds.
The game went very much to script early on as the Division 2B champions Armagh raced into an early 1-3 to 0-1 lead. But Donegal got up and running on ten minutes when Sean McVeigh struck for the first of his hat-trick of goals.
Armagh looked at times as if they were going through the motions, but were left with a game on their hands when McVeigh’s third green flag 15 minutes from time narrowed the gap to four points.
Wind-assisted in the opening half, Armagh led 1-14 to 2-6 at the break and when Conor Corvan cracked home Armagh’s third goal to push them seven points clear on 43 minutes, it looked as if Donegal had precious little left in the tank. But they rallied magnificently.
Despite posting a number of wides Donegal produced their best hurling in the last quarter and outscored the locals 1-4 to 0-3 in the latter stages.
This was far from a classic but what it lacked in quality was more than made up for in honest endeavour.
Conor Corvan pointed after 50 seconds and Armagh were never headed, Cathal Carvill’s fifth minute goal gave them a 1-3 to 0-1 advantage. Donegal responded with the first of Mc Veigh’s goals followed by Danny Cullen’s equalising point on 12 minutes.
David Carvill restored the home lead and points from Ryan Gaffney (2) and Cathal Carvill pushed them 1-8 to 1-4 clear.
McVeigh’s 21st minute goal, somewhat against the run of play, had it down to the minimum and Donegal back in the tie. But the Orchard men pulled away again and outscored the visitors 0-6 to 0-2 before the break. McVeigh and Lee Henderson (free) posted the Donegal points.
Donegal were first up on the scoreboard on the restart with Bernard Lafferty’s white flag.
However, a quick Corvan goal and two David Carvill points meant Armagh were back in the driving seat once more.
Refused to buckle
But Donegal simply refused to buckle and they hit a number of poor wides before McVeigh pounced to complete his hat-trick when he got a touch to a long delivery and suddenly it was all to play for. Gaffney converted his second ’65 to give Armagh their first score in 15 minutes and Conor Corvan hastily tagged on another.
Entering the final ten minutes Armagh led 2-18 to 3-11and there was only a puck of the ball in it, after Ciaran Matthewson and Henderson picked off two good points. Armagh defended frantically in the closing minutes before deep in time, they added on a Gaffney pointed free to make matters safe.
Armagh: S Doherty; C Clifford, A Mc Guinness, K Mc Kernan; S Gaffney, N Curry (0-1, free), C Devlin; J Corvan, S Renaghan; P Mc Kearney (0-3), C Carvill (1-2), D Carvill (0-3); J King, R Gaffney (0-8, 6 frees, 2 ’65’s), C Corvan (1-2).
Subs: P Hughes for Devlin (h-t), P Mc Grane for Renaghan (44), L Woods for King (66).
Donegal: P Burns; P Doherty (0-1), J McGhee, S Gallen; J O’ Loughlin, J Donnelly, N Cleary; P Sheridan, C Mc Dermott; L Henderson (0-6, 5 frees), D Cullen (0-1), B Lafferty (0-2); C Mathewson (0-1), P Hannigan, S Mc Veigh (3-2).
Subs: R Mc Dermott for Donnelly (32), S Doherty for C Mc Dermott (65).
Referee: E Hasson (Derry)