Armagh’s Rory Grugan tackles Peader Mogan of Donegal.

McGuinness's Donegal showing major intent

Donegal 0-15; Armagh 0-14

Once Jim McGuinness threw his hat back into the Donegal ring last Autumn, you just knew you were going to get a green and gold bandwagon rolling into Croke Park sometime in 2024. 

And yes, it may have been “only”  a Division 2 final against Armagh, but it showed major intent, particularly when you consider the likes of Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh were not available on this occasion.

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So a national title for Lucky Jim and plenty more on the line in the coming months as Donegal face up to Derry in Ulster before embarking on what their fans hope will undoubtedly be a real crack at winning the Sam Maguire regardless of whether they win or lose that opening joust.

Sunday’s victory certainly increased their profile as potential winners with only Derry, Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and  possibly Armagh and Galway serious other contenders.

There was little or nothing between the two sides right through until  Aaron Doherty kicked the winning score to break Armagh hearts on the call of full-time.

Ten years on from McGuinness’s last silverware with his county, the Ulster title, the way is now open to have a go at the provincial series, which without doubt, will be the most competitive of the four in the weeks and months ahead.

While Derry will rightly be given top billing, Donegal are very much the dark horses while Armagh will point to the fact that they were level 10 times before losing out by the narrowest of margins. 

With Tyrone an unknown quantity, it is likely that both Donegal and Armagh will be the likely ones to take down Derry if that is indeed to be achieved at all this year.

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, C McColgan, C Moore; S O'Donnell (0-1), K McGettigan, C McGonagle (0-1); J McGee, M Langan; P Mogan (0-1), C Thompson (0-3), L McGlynn; A Doherty (0-1), O Gallen (0-5, 0-2f, 0-1), N O'Donnell (0-3) Subs: J Brennan for McGettigan h/t, O Doherty for McGlynn h/t, H McFadden for McGee 42, J MacCeallabhui for McColgan 60, C MacAonghasa for N O'Donnell 61.

Armagh: B Hughes; P McGrane, P Burns, A McKay; J Óg Burns (0-2), A Forker, D McMullan; C Mackin, B Crealey; G McCabe, R Grugan (0-4, 0-2f), J McElroy; A Murnin, C Turbitt (0-4, 0-2f), O Conaty (0-2) Subs: S Campbell (0-1) for Forker 42, R O'Neill for McElroy 49, O O'Neill (0-1) for McMullan 60, J Duffy for Mackin 69.

Ref: P Faloon (Down).

Div 3 National Football  Final

Westmeath 2-10; Down 0-13

Down rolled into Croke Park hoping a victory would prove a real tonic in advance of their Ulster series starting in two weeks time but the evening showed manager Conor Lavery his side’s limitations more than any outstanding abilities as they lost out to Westmeath by a goal.

It was an entertaining game where the Mournemen looked the better early on but once Jonathan Lynam flicked home the first of his two goals, it seemed to energize Dessie Dolan’s charges for the remainder of the game.

It is now 30 years since Down has won any sort of major silverware and a national league title would have given Lavery’s side a confidence boost before facing Antrim in the quarter-final stage and possibly Armagh should they get to the semi-final.

They were leading with 10 minutes to go but once Lynam struck for his second goal and man of the match Sam McCartan weighed in with his scores, it meant Westmeath won the game with a little something to spare.

Wing-back McCartan was the playmaker for  Lynam’s second goal before he then landed two 45s to expand the margin.

This win will boost their confidence for this weekend when they host Wicklow in the Leinster championship in their fourth successive weekend game.

Westmeath: J Daly; D Scahill, C Drumm, J Gonoud; S McCartan (0-4, 0-2 '45), J Dolan, D Lynch (0-1); R Connellan, J Lynam (2-0); A McCormack, R O'Toole, C Dillon (0-1); L Loughlin (0-1f), S Smith, R Forde (0-3, 0-1f) Subs: S Baker for Smith 45, L Dolan for Loughlin 50, M Whittaker for Dillon 54, N Harte for Gonoud 60, J Heslin for Forde 71.

Down: J O'Hare; R McEvoy, P Fegan, P Laverty; F McElroy, D Magill, C Doherty; P Havern (0-7f), J Flynn; M Rooney (0-1), L Kerr (0-3), D Guinness; J Guinness, O Murdock (0-1), J McGovern Subs: O Savage (0-1) for McGovern 39, S Annett for J Guinness 44, C Francis for McElroy 54, B O'Hagan for Rooney 61, R Mason for Flynn 66.

Ref: B Tiernan (Dublin).

National League Football Final Div 4

Laois 3-14; Leitrim 0-9

The GAA romantics across the world wanted Leitrim to return with a trophy on this, their sixth appearance ever in Croke Park since the venerable venue opened for business, but by the end of the day, pragmatism ruled as Laois were by far the better side and fully worthy of this 13-point victory over Andy Moran’s battlers on Saturday evening.

O’Moore boss Justin McNulty will savor the delights of a title win for a day or two before turning his attention to plotting the downfall of neighbors Offaly in Portlaoise on Sunday week.

In retrospect, the Leitrim game will have served him well in preparation for that game but he will expect a greater level of competition than the Connacht minnows were able to provide.

Leitrim opened the occasion fired up and were as good as their opponents until Ben Dempsey got the first half goal which ended the game as a contest despite the best efforts of the men in green and gold.

True they got the scoreline back to a two-point deficit in the third quarter but goals from veterans Eoin Lowry and Paul Kingston knocked the stuffing out of them for the rest of the game.

It opened the door for Laois to hit 2-6 over the past 22 minutes without reply while Leitrim will hope the game won’t have too much of a debilitating effect on their confidence as they face out on the roads across Connacht.

Laois: K Roche; B Dempsey (1-0), J Kelly, E Buggie; B Byrne, M Timmons, S Lacey; K Lillis (0-1m), D Larkin; K Swayne, E Lowry (1-2), S Fitzpatrick; M Barry (0-2), E O'Carroll (0-6, 0-2f), P Kingston (1-2) Subs: S Fingleton for Byrne 53, C Heffernan for Lillis 62, R Murphy (0-1) for Kingston 63, N Dunne for Fitzpatrick 64, M Dempsey for Swayne 65.

Leitrim: N O'Donnell (0-3, 0-1f, 0-1 45); C Reynolds, M Diffley, D Casey; J Gilheany; D Wrynn, A Flynn, J Foley; P Dolan, B McNulty (0-1); M Plunkett (0-1), D Rooney, T Prior; R O'Rourke (0-2), R O'Rourke (0-2) Subs: E Sweeney for Reynolds 20, P Keaney for Prior 42, S Quinn for R O'Rourke 51, A Reynolds for Casey 61, J Rooney for Flynn 67.

Ref: T Murphy (Galway).