Donegal mastermind greatest of escapes
Donegal 2-12 Fermanagh 0-11
It wasn't quite trickery to rival Houdini, but Donegal left themselves chained into a box at the bottom of River Finn before systematically escaping their binds to comfortably dismiss Fermanagh from the Ulster Championship.
At the stroke of half-time, Fermanagh had weathered a scoring blitz by the home side to leave two points in the margin. Running out of ideas in an attack, Aidan Breen floated a hopeful ball across the face of goal that Sean Quigley fetched.
Although he was tripped, referee Maurice Deegan passed on the penalty appeal. However, he couldn't ignore the blatant forearm smash by Neil McGee on Ruairi Corrigan, which earned the Gweedore man a straight red card.
This prompted a period of faux outrage and appeals.
Donegal men surrounded Deegan. While he made his deliberations, goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley conducted a close-up conversation with Fermanagh penalty taker Sean Quigley. The Roslea man's penalty wasn't hit with conviction or placed well. McGinley batted it away and the ref immediately called for half-time. McGee sprinted on to confront Deegan and Donegal manager Rory Gallagher made his point also with the half-time score Donegal 1-6 Fermanagh 0-7.
Pete McGrath was not happy with several elements of what he termed Donegal's "gamesmanship", and said of Deegan's delay between offence and penalty kick: "For him to allow that amount of time to elapse (two minutes) and the penalty being taken, I mean that's unacceptable."
Still, when Eamonn McGee dragged Sean Quigley down by the arm and Tomas Corrigan tapped over it left one point in the game and Pete McGrath's men up a man.
From then on, they froze. Call it a case of not truly believing in themselves, but when Donegal put together a rapid fire sequence of handpasses through the excellent and probing Frank McGlynn and Martin McElhinney they opened up a scoring chance for Martin O'Reilly. Instead of kicking his point, he spotted Odhran MacNiallais on the edge of the square, slipped it to him and MacNiallais palmed to the net - Fermanagh then crumbled.
That score opened up a five point gap. It was the second goal for MacNiallais. In the first half McGlynn played a quick give and go with McElhinney to give the stylish MacNiallais a sight on goal - he went high and hard past Chris Snow in the Fermanagh goal.
Once the second goal went in, it was time to drain the life from the game. There were 21 minutes sandwiched between Corrigan free-kicks - Fermanagh's first and second scores of the half.
From that point on, the game grew ever more dreary and predictable. Fermanagh had failed to take advantage of the great position they had put themselves in.
Asked to explain how they re-jigged things at half-time, Fermanagh manager McGrath commented: "I think there were too many individual battles lost in certain areas of the field in the second half to make the extra man a benefit."
Donegal fed Fermanagh attackers Tomas Corrigan and Quigley on very strict rations.
When Quigley had a long-range free in the first-half, Donegal players surrounded him in a tight semi-circle, employing some mind games.
O'Reilly followed the goal with a point that required dogged persistence.
The marking was getting ever looser when Paddy McBrearty posted a point and by McElhinney's solitary score, they had completely demoralised their opponents.
After an eight-week lay-off going into this game, they now have a mere 13 days to get themselves ready for a grudge match Ulster semi-final against Monaghan, a repeat of the last three Ulster finals, in Kingspan Breffni Park on June 25.
DONEGAL: MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, F McGlynn 0-1, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, H McFadden; E McHugh 0-2, M McElhinney 0-1, O MacNiallais 2-1; P McBrearty 0-3, 1f, M Murphy 0-1f, M O'Reilly 0-2.
Subs: L McLoone for Kavanagh (12), C Toye for McLoone (HT), R Kavanagh for McGlynn (53), M McHugh for McElhinney (59), C McFadden 0-1f, for McBrearty (69).
Yellow cards: Kavanagh (7), McLoone (27), Murphy (44), H McFadden (64)
Red cards: N McGee (35).
FERMANAGH: C Snow; M Jones, C Cullen, M O'Brien; D McCusker, J McMahon, B Mulrone 0-1; E Donnelly 0-1, A Breen; P McCusker, R Jones 0-1, R O'Callaghan; R Corrigan, S Quigley 0-1, T Corrigan 0-7f.
Subs:, N Cassidy for R Corrigan (47), R Lyons for Breen (59), C Jones for McMahon (59), D Teague for P McCusker (65), C Flaherty for O'Brien (70).
Yellow cards: Mulrone (25), R Jones (69), M Jones (74).
Black cards: C Cullen, replaced by D Kelly, (45).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).