Donegal 1-12 Armagh 1-11
By Francis Mooney
Paddy McBrearty kicked a late winner as Donegal scraped home in an intesnse Ulster derby to reach a third All-Ireland semi-final in four years.
Armagh came so close to pulling off a major shock, but their fairytale championship run came to a heroic end in the rain at Croke Park.
The men from the north-west were under pressure for long spells, but the leadership of their captain Michael Muphy pulled them through a cliff-hanger.
Stefan Campbell’s second-half goal put the Orchard side in prime position to go on and win the game, but Donegal’s experience was the decisive factor in the end.
Donegal went 20 minutes without a score after Murphy had clipped over an early free.
All their efforts were focused on stopping the Orchard men as they funnelled back into a blanket defence formation.
Tony Kernan by-passed the cordon with a long-range score, and his brother Aaron edged Armagh in front from a 13th minute free.
That was after a tense encounter spilled over into a series of untidy scuffles, with Armagh midfielder Aaron Findon picking up a yellow card, after the Donegal doctor ended up on the seat of his pants as he intervened in the disorder.
Aidan Forker nudged the Orchard two points clear, and with his attack mis-firing, Jim McGuinness pushed skipper Michael Murphy up to full forward.
Things started to happen for the Ulster champions, and they struck gold in the 23rd minute when Ryan McHugh sent Odhran MacNiallais in for a clinical angled finish to the net.
Armagh immediately went back in front through corner back Andy Mallon, but the men from Tir Chonail struck four points in the final ten minutes of the half to take a 1-5 to 0-6 lead into the break.
Worryingly for them, however, their attack failed to muster a single score from play, with full-back Neil Gallagher hitting Donegal’s sole point from open action.
Andy Mallon exploited the opportunities afforded by Donegal’s defensive approach to get forward at every opportunity, winning the free that Tony Kernan converted.
But with Neil Gallagher emerging as a major figure around midfield, the 2012 Sam Maguire Cup winners began to make moves, and went three clear when McFadden knocked over a couple of frees and Paddy McBrearty swung one over off his trustee left boot.
Armagh were now struggling to deliver quality ball to isolated front men, and while Aaron Kernan did arrow over a fine score, their opponents kept daylight between the sides with a 49 metre free, stroked over delightfully by Murphy.
The pressure was building all the while on an Armagh side now feeling the pain, but as the game moved towards its final ten minutes, they were still just two points behind, thanks in no small way to Donegal’s poor finishing.
And Armagh sensationally went back in front in the 60th minute when Brian Mallon crossed for Stefan Campbell to grab a goal, his fisted effort finally going in off goalkeeper Paul Durcan’s leg.
But Murphy rallied the troops with a superb equaliser in the 68th minute, and it was McBrearty who clinched it for Jim McGuinness’ side.
Donegal: P Durcan, E McGee, N McGee (0-1), F McGlynn, A Thompson, K Lacey, P McGrath, N Gallagher, C Toye, R McHugh, L McLoone, O MacNiallais (1-1), P McBrearty (0-2), M Murphy (0-5, 4f), C McFadden (0-3, 2f).
Subs: R Kavanagh for Toye, M McElhinney for McLoone, D O’Connor for McFadden, M O’Reilly for McBrearty
Armagh: P McEvoy, F Moriarty, C Vernon, A Mallon (0-1), M Shields, B Donaghy, A Kernan (0-2, 1f), S Harold, A Findon, A Forker (0-1), K Dyas, T Kernan (0-4, 1f), K Carragher (0-1), S Campbell (1-1), J Clarke.
Subs: B Mallon for Carragher, E Rafferty for Findon, R Grugan for Dyas, M Murray (0-1) for Forker, K Toner for Harold
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).