Donegal swept past Tyrone to book their place in the Ulster SFC final, scoring a first win over fierce north-west rivals Tyrone in four Championship clashes as they triumphed by four points at Kingspan Breffni Park.
In truth, the margin of victory was flattering to the Red Hands, who closed the gap on the defending provincial champions with a late flourish. Jamie Brennan’s early goal gave Declan Bonner’s side a cushion that helped them stay comfortably ahead for the remainder of the contest.
They succeeded in negating the Red Hand long ball game, and also blotted out the effectiveness of in-form attacker Cathal McShane, who scored just one point from play. A defensive set-up built around sweeper Hugh McFadden succeeded in blunting Tyrone’s attacking edge, superbly organised and effectively targeting all the main threats.
Apart from a point apiece from Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane, the Red Hands managed little return from their recognised score-getters in the opening half. And their defence was stretched by a Donegal side eager to press forward in numbers at every opportunity, with Michael Murphy conducting the orchestra.
They got off to a perfect start, with Eoghan ban Gallagher sending Jamie Brennan in to smash home a goal as early as the fourth minute, giving tehm a led they held on to confidently. Murphy thumped over a ’45 and Brennan added a point s they led by 1-2 to 0-3 after five minutes, with Richie and Mattie Donnelly and Kieran McGeary on target for the Red Hands.
Tyrone lost key man Peter Harte to a black card after just nine minutes, and badly missed his influence as the impact of Murphy continued to rise. The Donegal captain added a couple of scores, with Michael Langan also on target with a long range gem.
Tyrone’s best attacking efforts were suffocated by weight of numbers, but they did manage to break through twice to get shots at goal away, but ‘keeper Shaun Patton denied Brian Kennedy and Colm Cavanagh. Brennan almost had a second goal, finding space on the left to collect Paddy McBrearty’s assist, but smashed his shot against a post.
Pressure on the man in possession around the middle prevented Tyrone from hitting their target men with accurate long ball, and a frustrating first half for Mickey Harte’s side finished on the back foot, with their opponents slotting over scores through Eoin McHugh, Brennan and Murphy to go in at the break with a 1-9 to 0-5 lead. Murphy kicked his fourth to open out a seven points gap, 1-9 to 0-5 at the break and Declan Bonner’s side firmly in control.
McShane and McGeary narrowed the gap as the Red Hands resumed with urgency and tenacity, but soon they were putting themselves under poressure with unforced errors, and were almost punished when Ciaran Thompson broke clear, his shot saved by Niall Morgan. Murphy and McBrearty slotted over frees, and six points separated the sides at the end of the third quarter, 1-11 to 0-8.
With Eoghan Ban Gallagher making ground along the right flank, drawing in defenders and breaking tackles, Donegal’s potency was on the rise. McBrearty, scoreless until the 53rd minute, now had three to his name as he steered over a gem from wide on the left, and Tyrone looked flat and lacking in ideas.
But Darren McCurry came off the bench and added a much-needed spark to the Tyrone attack, kcikign three points, with Michael Cassidy also coming in to rifle a shot just over the bar. But this was always going to be Donegal’s day as they finally turned the tables on their great rivals.
S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, S McMenamin (0-1); R McHugh (0-1), N O’Donnell, E Ban Gallagher; H McFadden (0-1), J McGee; E McHugh (0-1), L McLoone, J Brennan (1-3); P McBrearty (0-3, 1f), M Murphy (0-5, 2f, 1 ’45), M Langan (0-1).
Subs: C Thompson for McGee (15), D O Baoill for E McHugh (39), F McGlynn for McLoone (47), O Gallen for O’Donnell (53), P Brennan for J Brennan (64)
N Morgan (0-2, 1f, 1 ’45); P Hampsey, R McNamee, L Rafferty; T McCann, B McDonnell, M McKernan; C Cavanagh, B Kennedy; M Donnelly (0-1), K McGeary (0-2), F Burns; C McShane (0-4, 3f), P Harte, R Donnelly (0-2).
Subs: C McAliskey for Harte (BC 9), N Sludden for Cavanagh (h-t), R Brennan for Rafferty (h-t), D McCurry (0-3, 1f) for McDonnell (40), M Cassidy (0-1) for Burns (51), A McCrory for McCann (56)
D Gough (Meath).