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Donegal issue All-Ireland statement of intent with impressive Ulster semi-final win over Tyrone

Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly and Donegal's Stephen McMenamin and Hugh McFadden
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Evan Logan
Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly and Donegal's Stephen McMenamin and Hugh McFadden Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Evan Logan

Defending Ulster champions Donegal knocked last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists Tyrone out of the race for this year's provincial title in a one-sided showdown in Kingspan Breffni before a disappointing attendance of 13,579.

It was sweet revenge for Declan Bonner's side, who were beaten at home by Tyrone in the final round of the Super 8d when within sight of an All-Ireland semi-final appearance last year.

Essentially they wrapped up their first championship win over Tyrone since 2015 with a devastating first-half performance, which saw them lead by seven points at the break (1-9 to 0-5).

It secures them a place in their eighth provincial final in nine seasons. They meet the winners of the semi-final replay between Cavan and Armagh in the decider.

It was a disappointing end to the provincial campaign for Mickey Harte's side, who have only won two of the last eight provincial titles but are well versed in negotiating the back door route. They will be the team all the round one qualifier winners will want to avoid when the second round draw is made on Monday.

The black-carding of Peter Harte after just 11 minutes was a key moment, but essentially they were out-thought and out-played by Donegal for most of the match, and although they reduced the deficit to three points deep in injury time, they never looked like rescuing the game.

Tyrone made three pre-match changes, with novices Brian Kennedy and Liam Rafferty replacing Michael Cassidy and Connor McAliskey, while Kieran McGeary was preferred to Niall Sludden. Donegal, meanwhile, made two changes, with Niall O'Donnell and Eoin McHugh replacing Daire O Baoill and Ciaran Thompson.

There were wholesale positional changes as well but once the action started it was hectic. Straight from the throw-in, Richie Donnelly, Cathal McShane and Matthew Donnelly opened up the Donegal defence via footpasses to set up a point chance for the latter after 15 seconds.

After Michael Murphy (45) and Richie Donnelly exchanged scores, Donegal struck the first serious blow after a brilliant run from Eoghan Ban Gallagher created the chance for Jamie Brennan, who slammed the ball passed Niall Morgan after just four minutes.

Brennan caused his marker Michael McKernan endless problems, adding two points from play in the next four minutes as Donegal's slick kick-passing game and speed around the field caused endless problems for the Tyrone defence

Trailing 1-3 to 0-3 after 11 minutes, Tyrone suffered another body blow in the 11th minute when referee David Gough flashed a black card at Tyrone's key player Peter Harte, after he pulled down Ryan McHugh, who was again targeted by Tyrone for special attention.

The upright saved Tyrone after 18th minutes when a delightful through ball set Brennan free, and his shot beat Morgan but rebounded into play off the upright, where it was swept up along the left flank and Cathal McShane pulled a point back for Tyrone.

However, Mickey Harte's side were being turned over regularly by the Donegal defence, and once they had ball, Donegal's ability to move it fast via the foot stretched the Tyrone defence beyond breaking point.

The pace dropped slightly in the second quarter and Tyrone twice exposed gaps in the Donegal rearguard, when Brian Kennedy in the 21st minute and Richie Donnelly in the third minute of aded time, soloed unchallenged through but their efforts were brilliantly saved by Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton.

Patton was outstanding, with his eight restarts all going to team-mates, whereas Tyrone lost three of Niall Morgan's restarts. Donegal upped the ante again in the latter stages of the first half, with Michael Murphy emerging as a pivotal figure and Gallagher and Ryan McHugh playing key support roles.

Brennan added another point to bring his first half tally to 1-3, and the Division Two champions outscored Tyrone 5-1 in the last 15 minutes of the half to deservingly lead 1-9 to 0-5 at the break.

Tyrone's failure to score from play in the last 22 minutes of the half - their only score came from a free from goalkeeper Niall Morgan - underlined their difficulties. They were simply unable to breach the Donegal defence, marshalled by sweeper Leo McLoone, whereas they were repeatedly caught on the break by Donegal, who simply looked far more energetic than Mickey Harte's side.

The floodlights were on at the start of the second half as Tyrone introduced Niall Sludden and Rory Brennan for an out-of-form Colm Cavanagh and Liam Rafferty. There was a notable increase in energy from Tyrone, though their early efforts yielded just a pointed free from Cathal McShane and three wides.

Donegal were quite content to slow the play down but they could have sunk Tyrone had substitute Ciaran Thompson availed of a great goal chance in the 45th minute, but he snapped at the shot and Niall Morgan pushed it away for a 45, which Murphy missed.

Facing into the tricky breeze, Murphy was on target in the 47th minute with Donegal's first score of the second half from a free. Tyrone substitute Darren McCurry then kicked a point but Paddy McBrearty opened his account with a free to restore Donegal's six-point advantage in the 53rd minute.

Donegal were content to hold possession and the half was interrupted by a series of stoppages with a long delay while Tyrone's Tiernan McCann - who eventually had to be replaced – was treated for an ankle injury.

McBrearty began to make a bigger impact, kicking two points from play, whereas Tyrone were reliant on the free-taking of McShane and substitute Darren McCurry to keep them in the game.

There were audible groans from the Donegal fans when it was announced there would be six minutes of injury time but having controlled the second half, Donegal were cruising and led by six.

But two quick points from play from substitute McCurry – who made a telling impact – and Richie Donnelly suddenly left Donegal looking slightly vulnerable, even though they had essentially controlled the game.

Those fears grew when substitute Michael Cassidy made it a three-point game with a minute left, but a sweeping Donegal move culminated with corner-back Stephen McMenamin fisting the insurance point for Donegal at the death.

Scorers: Donegal: J Brennan 1-3, M Murphy 0-5 ( 2f, 145), P McBrearty 0-3 (1f), E McHugh, S McMenamin, R McHugh, H McFadden, M Langan 0-1 each

Tyrone: C McShane 0-4, (3f ), D McCurry 0-3 (1f) K McGeary, N Morgan (1f, 1 45), R Donnelly 0-2 each. M Cassidy, M Donnelly 0-1 each.

Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, S McMenamin; R McHugh, L McLoone, E B Gallagher; H McFadden, J McGee; E McHugh, J Brennan, N O'Donnell, P McBrearty, M Murphy, M Langan. Subs: C Thompson for J McGee 16m; Daire O Baoill for E McHugh 40, F McGlynn for McLoone 47, O Gallen for O'Donnelll 53, P Brennan for J Brennan 65m

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, B McDonnell, R McNamee, T McCann, P Hampsey, L Rafferty, C Cavanagh, B Kennedy; R Donnelly, K McGeary, F Burns; P Harte, M Donnelly, C McShane. Subs: C McAliskey for Harte BC 11m, N Sludden for C Cavanagh ht; R Brennan for Rafferty ht. D McCurry for McDonnell 41, M Cassidy for Burns 50, A McCrory for McCann 56,

Referee: David Gough (Meath)

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