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Classy Donegal send out loud and clear message

RORY GALLAGHER'S Donegal delivered one of their most controlled performances of their recent glorious spell as they cruised into an Ulster semi-final at the Athletic Grounds yesterday.

Armagh could scarcely lay a glove on a Michael Murphy-inspired visiting team who built an early platform and protected it with ease as they cruised to a 2-11 to 0-8.

Goals in either half from Paddy McBrearty and Martin O'Reilly gave them a safe passage through this quarter-final.

The first half was a as close to perfection as Donegal, who were without 'flu victim Colm McFadden, have enjoyed in five-years as Ulster's top team.

Kieran McGeeney's fears that Armagh had picked up bad habits during a Division Three campaign were well founded.

Afterwards the Armagh boss said: "We went out in the first half and did everything we were not supposed to do. We pushed out too much and left holes and gave sloppy balls away.

"But credit goes to Donegal. They are good at their game, trying to drag you out and creating space inside.

"You have to be patient against them and we were not and the consequences were there to see.

"I suppose it is the difference between Division One and Division Three. However, I have to tell the boys they are better than that.

"The lesson is that if you are going to be sloppy against quality teams, you are going to get punished."

Armagh made basic errors with misplaced passes too easily read and intercepted by hardened and experienced Donegal defenders.

The McGee brothers, Neil and Eamonn, barely had to break sweat with a wall in front of them that included Murphy who, with Karl Lacey and Ryan McHugh, controlled the game so effectively.

Their aerial bombardment of Armagh's last line of defence reaped early dividends with Neil Gallagher's delivery dropping nicely for McBrearty who had his initial effort blocked at close range by Matthew McNiece but nudged in the rebound for a decisive lead.

It rattled Armagh. They lost four of their own first five kick-outs and Donegal piled on the pressure.

By the 12th minute the champions led by 1-3 to 0-0, their grip on the game almost suffocating for the home side.

Murphy's free-taking off the ground was sublime, four from five including three magnificent long range efforts, each between 46 and 55 metres, helping them to a 1-9 to 0-2 interval lead.

At that point there was nothing left for Armagh to salvage but their pride.

Jamie Clarke struck a post after a scintillating run just after the restart and Stefan Campbell hit the sidenetting from the rebound but with Ryan and Mark McHugh and Lacey repeatedly shoring up the defence they had precious few clearcut opportunities.

Donegal meet Derry in an Ulster semi-final while Armagh face Wicklow in the first round qualifiers.

SCORERS - Donegal: M Murphy 0-5 (5f), P McBrearty 1-1, M O'Reilly 1-0, O MacNaillais 0-2, N Gallagher, M McElhinney, N Gallagher 0-1 each. Armagh: T Kernan 0-3 (1f), J Morgan, C McKeever, E Rafferty (f), A Findon, C Rafferty all 0-1 each.

DONEGAL: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; F McGlynn, K Lacey, R McHugh; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais; C Toye, M McElhinney, M McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, M O'Reilly. Subs: A Thompson for E McGee (ht),H McFadden for McBrearty (52), D Walsh for Toye (57), G McFadden for McElhinney (68), E Doherty for O'Reilly (70).

Armagh: M McNiece; F Moriarty, C Vernon, J Morgan; A Mallon, C McKeever, C Rafferty; A Findon, E Rafferty; T Kernan, M McKenna, A Forker; J Clarke, A Murnin, S Campbell. Subs: M Murray for McKenna (30), K Dyas for Moriarty (31), C O'Hanlon for E Rafferty (52),B Donaghy for Forker (57), E McVerry for Murnin (68), S Harold for Findon BC (70).