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Ruthless Red Hands demolish desperate Donegal

Tyrone 1-21 Donegal 1-12

By Declan Bogue

And just like that, Tyrone bury Donegal, create a new tier in Ulster football, and put themselves in the frame for a serious shout at an All-Ireland title by crushing their neighbours on a baking day in Clones.

Nine points divided them at the end but it could have been a massacre with Tyrone passing up on no fewer than five goal chances as Donegal - who had tweaked their style over the spring to become more expansive - leaving the back door wide open and neon blinking lights showing the way.

Six of Donegal's players were facing Tyrone in the Championship for the first time. And when Tyrone asked questions of them, the response was meek.

The odd thing was that this game followed a scoring pattern we might all have imagined, with tit for tat scores in the first quarter. But worrying signs began to emerge with Donegal pushing high up on Niall Morgan's kickouts.

Forced to go long and with the Donegal backline threadbare, one majestic Colm Cavanagh catch set his brother Sean away through on goal but his shot was at a height comfortable for Donegal goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley. At the time, it felt like a crucial moment.

Especially given how Eoin McHugh found himself one on one against Morgan minutes later. The retreating Matthew Donnelly made a desperate lunge and came close, but McHugh's shot was surprisingly well wide.

Tyrone put together a mini highlights reel of six points from play in six minutes. Niall Sludden sent over a shot, so too did defender Padraig Hampsey who achieved an impressive marking job on Michael Murphy.

The next one was the score of the game. Peter Harte weaved and slipped and left Jason McGee and Eamonn Doherty lying on the floor as he swung a point over.

Donegal and McHugh had another sight of goal just before half-time but it was blocked by Cathal McCarron, before Colm Cavanagh grabbed the rebound, fired a couple of men out of his road and asserted their superiority as they went in 0-12 to 0-5 ahead.

Rory Gallagher had Karl Lacey already on and tweaked things by putting Hugh McFadden on the edge of the square and installed Michael McElhinney to midfield during the break.

However, four minutes into the half the contest was killed off.

Tiernan McCann had intercepted a move - a feature of the game was how disciplined Tyrone's tackling was and the ease of which they gained turnovers, coughing up a mere eight frees all game - and was instantly fouled by McFadden.

Tyrone got the ball live and when McCann received possession he slipped past Karl Lacey as if he wasn't there. His shot wasn't the cleanest of connections, but it bobbled past McGinley and into the net.

By the 43rd minute, pockets of Donegal supporters were already filing out of St Tiernach's Park, no longer interested in watching their team being toyed with.

From that moment, a game that promised so much in the opening quarter, became an exercise in building Tyrone's confidence and rubbing salt into old wounds. Donegal's play was abject, their leaders non-existent, their old verve and old-fashioned spite dissolving in the north Monaghan heat.

"Our defending was very poor for Tiernan McCann's goal. The game petered out after that. We showed a lack of fight as well which was disappointing," said Rory Gallagher afterwards.

Asked to explain it all, he noted, "It is hard to tell. We were not that naïve to think that we would land into Ulster and play the Tyrone's of this world and hit the ground running."

What is clear to see is that Tyrone are loving their football at present. Take Sean Cavanagh for example. Throughout the game he made several lung busting runs. In the second half he clearly enjoyed tormenting Neil McGee by taking him on and getting the better of him.

Standing in the tunnel afterwards, he described the Genesis of that destruction.

"We feel we've been on this journey for three or four years and we've been refining and rebuilding the system as we've gone along…

"I feel we've been waiting and waiting for that performance to come together and it's nice whenever it comes together like that."

Asked if he felt it was their best performance in years, he continued, "It felt in that 15, 20 minutes before half time, like a performance that was close to what we expect, and what I have come to expect in Tyrone, through the 2000s.

"We knew, or I believed, in the talent we had in the squad and it came together. We should have had two or three goals, including one from myself, but it's nice to pierce holes in a tough rearguard."

Mickey Harte's men now will get a look at Monaghan and Down in Saturday's other semi-final and make plans for a long summer, starting with the Ulster final on July 16th.

A dizzying day for the Ulster champions.

Tyrone: N Morgan 0-1, '45'; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann 1-1, M Donnelly 0-2, P Harte 0-2, P Hampsey 0-2, C Cavanagh, C McCann; K McGeary 0-3, N Sludden 0-4, D Mulgrew 0-1; M Bradley 0-2, S Cavanagh 0-1f. Subs: R Brennan for Mulgrew (48), D McClure 0-1, for McCann (51), R O'Neill 0-1 for S Cavanagh, C McShane for McGeary (58), J McMahon for Harte (71). Yellow cards: 0. Black cards: Bradley (44, replaced by D McCurry. Red cards: 0

Donegal: MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, EB Gallagher; R McHugh, F McGlynn, E Doherty; J McGee, M Murphy 0-3, 2x'45'; M Carroll 1-0, E McHugh, C Thompson; P McBrearty 0-6, 2f, J Brennan, M Reilly 0-1. Subs: K Lacey for J McGee (32), H McFadden 0-1 for Brennan, M McElhinney for McGlynn (h-time), C Mulligan for Thompson (40), K Gillespie for Doherty (47), M Langan 0-1, for E McHugh (60), Yellow cards: Brennan (29), McFadden (36), Gillespie (65), Carroll (66). Black cards: 0. Red cards: 0

Referee: David Gough (Meath)

Attendance: 22,609

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