Donegal prove too hot to handle for Mickey Harte's Tyrone
Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 1-10
Suddenly, just when it appears to need it most, gaelic football has been thrown a lifeline. This nerve-shredding, edge of your seat Ulster Championship preliminary round tie virtually screamed a message of defiance at those cynics who have lately, it seems, been preparing to administer the last rites to the old game.
Yet just when we had been forewarned to expect a turgid encounter, we were treated to a riveting contest.
Here was a game that provided the full monty - exquisite scores, flashes of genius, thunderous hits, a catalogue of individual displays and two dismissals, Neil Gallagher and Sean Cavanagh being banished by over-worked referee Joe McQuillan.
It was brutal at times but breathtakingly elegant at intervals.
Sure, defensive vigilance was not sacrificed nor were space and time in plentiful supply but there was sufficient scope for artistry and guile to leave even the most discerning fan gasping for breath at the finish.
Donegal won because they had the experience and craft to close out the game and in Michael Murphy they have a stellar performer who thrives when the pressure is at its most intense.
And it never was more so than in the final pulsating minutes when the Donegal skipper stepped up to power over three gigantic frees that ushered his side into a quarter-final meeting with Armagh.
Tyrone's guerrilla campaign in the league held the promise of a stunning romantic updraft when they blazed back into the game after allowing their opponents to rack up four points in the opening nine minutes.
Frank McGlynn, Patrick McBrearty, Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney may have sent a warning shot across the Red Hands' bow but when Peter Harte took a hand in the proceedings the landscape changed.
The Errigal Ciaran's deft fisted pass in the 10th minute took out three defenders and left Darren McCurry in the clear to rocket home.
With Harte at the fulcrum of every move, Sean Cavanagh foraging busily at midfield and both Mattie Donnelly and Connor McAliskey threatening, Mickey Harte's team not only forced their way back at 1-3 to 0-6 but stole a march on their hosts by nosing in front at 1-6 to 0-7 on the cusp of half-time.
A brace of Cavanagh points and another from Ronan McNamee hoisted Tyrone into a more comfortable position.
But they never got to enjoy the half-time cuppa in comfort.
A McElhinney goal in the 34th minute was followed by a Colm McFadden point and suddenly Tyrone were again in a backs-to-the-wall scenario at 1-8 to 1-6.
It is a measure of the character of the side, though, that barely three minutes of the second-half had elapsed before it was level again, Cavanagh and McAliskey doing the needful.
And with the exchanges becoming more heated, the card count began to rise with Donegal accumulating half a dozen yellows while Tyrone incurred four.
Two points from McAliskey ensured parity again at 1-10 each but it was from then that Donegal slowly but surely began to pull clear.
The first of Murphy's three points in the 56th minute settled their nerves, the second in the 62nd minute gave them fresh hope and the third in the 69th minute sealed a most satisfying victory.
It mattered not a lot, then, that Neil Gallagher had got his marching orders in the 64th minute.
But it perturbed Tyrone that Sean Cavanagh was sent off in the 66th minute.
No two players gave more to the cause.
And they will not be pilloried in the least for their expulsion from the hard-fought contest.
After all, that was one cameo in what was a memorable championship extravaganza.
DONEGAL: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey 0-1, F McGlynn 0-1; N Gallagher, M McElhinney 1-2; M O'Reilly, O MacNiallais, C Toye 0-2, P McBrearty 0-2, M Murphy 0-3 (all frees), C McFadden 0-2. Subs: M McHugh for O'Reilly (39 mins), A Thompson for Toye (67), D Walsh for McElhinney (70), D McLaughlin for McFadden (72). Yellow: O'Reilly (4), McBrearty (11), Toye (24), Gallagher (34), Lacey (47), McGrath (60). Red: Gallagher (64).
TYRONE: M O'Neill; A McCrory, R McNamee 0-1, C McCarron; R McNabb, Justin McMahon 0-1, P Harte; C Cavanagh 0-4 (3f), S Cavanagh; R Brennan, M Donnelly 0-1, B Tierney; D McCurry 1-0, C McShane, C McAliskey 0-3. Subs: P McNulty for McShane (42), T McCann for Tierney (55), M Bradley for McCurry (64), R O'Neill for McAliskey (68). Cards: Yellow: McNamee (11), McAliskey (60), McMahon (63), S Cavanagh (64). Red: S Cavanagh (66).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).