Ulster GAA Football Championship Semi-Final:
Donegal 0-12 Tyrone 0-10
Donegal will defend their Ulster title against Down on July 22 after a deserved two-point win over Tyrone in Clones on Saturday evening.
Although the dominant force for most of the second half, Jim McGuinness’s side just about scraped over the line and Tyrone were unlucky not to have salvaged a draw at the very end, as Martin Penrose forced a fine save from Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan four minutes into added time.
The finish may have been frenetic, but Donegal were at their very best in the final quarter and had kicked five points in a row, and kept Tyrone scoreless for 32 minutes, before the Red Hand came with a late flourish.
Stephen O’Neill reduced the gap to three points in added time, but Donegal defended doggedly to keep Tyrone at bay, with Durcan the hero of the hour when he deflected Penrose’s shot out for a 45, via an upright, with his feet.
Tyrone had a number of goal chances over the course of the game and led by 0-6 to 0-5 after a tactical, often dour, first half, but Donegal ominously upped their performance in the second half and will now attempt to put back-to-back provincial titles together for the first time in their history.
Tyrone took to the field without full-back Justin McMahon, who had been struggling with a hamstring injury picked up in the semi-final win over Armagh, with Conor Clarke handed the No. 3 jersey and Ryan McMenamin also called into the starting XV.
Donegal looked to have picked up where they left off in their impressive win over Derry when Mark McHugh sent over a superb long-range score in the third minute.
Tyrone nudged ahead with points from Joe McMahon (free) and Stephen O’Neill. Chances, however, were at a premium in a tactical game dominated by deep-lying defences.
Mickey Harte’s men did carve out a couple of chances in the first quarter, Mark Donnelly slinking in behind the Donegal defence before opting to fist over the bar. A minute later, Joe McMahon found an opening and forced a save from Paul Durcan, but the ball broke loose and Paddy McGrath made a brilliant block to stop Mark Donnelly’s effort from the rebound.
Donegal were struggling to cope with Tyrone’s swarmed defence, but Paddy McBrearty simply launched a long-range effort over a blanket of Red Hand players in the 18th minute to level matters at 0-3 apiece.
Michael Murphy, once again, was forced into midfield, and sometimes even further back, in search of the ball, but he did hit two fine points from frees in a tit-for-tat first half.
Conor Clarke and Seán O’Neill struck fine scores for Tyrone, while Donegal’s Colm McFadden (free) again leveled matters in the 35th minute.
Tyrone went into the break in front when Penrose hit the final score of the half two minutes into added time.
They stretched their lead with the first score of the second half, Joe McMahon dropping over his second free of the game, before Donegal enjoyed a period of sustained dominance, outscoring their opponents by 0-4 to 0-1 in a 10-minute spell.
Rory Kavanagh started that purple patch with two points from play, the first coming after a sweet move. Donegal had their tails up and there were brief signs that they were starting to unlock the Tyrone defence.
Colm McFadden levelled matters for the seventh time on 46 minutes before the veteran forward did brilliantly to retain the ball when surrounded by defenders before off-loading to the excellent Ryan Bradley for a superb point.
Michael Murphy added his third free and then Karl Lacey pounced on a weak kick-out from Tyrone ‘keeper Paschal McConnell, before McFadden put Donegal four clear in the 64th minute.
There was late drama when Tyrone went in search of a goal, but Donegal deservedly held on in a breathless finale.
Tyrone Scorers: Joe McMahon 0-2 (0-2f), Stephen O’Neill 0-2, Mark Donnelly 0-1, C Clarke 0-1, Seán O’Neill 0-1, M Penrose 0-1, D Carlin 0-1, C Gormley 0-1 (0-1 45).
Donegal Scorers: M McHugh 0-1, M Murphy 0-3 (0-3f), P McBrearty 0-1, C McFadden 0-3 (0-2f), R Kavanagh 0-2, R Bradley 0-1, K Lacey 0-1.
Tyrone: P McConnell; A McCrory, C Clarke, D Carlin; R McMenamin, C Gormley, Sean O’Neill; Joe McMahon, C Cavanagh; Mattie Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, P Harte; M Penrose, Stephen O’Neill, O Mulligan. Subs: R McNabb, B McGuigan, A Cassidy, N McKenna.
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn; E McGee, K Lacey, A Thompson; R Bradley, N Gallagher; David Walsh, R Kavanagh, M McHugh; R Bradley; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden. Subs: Declan Walsh, M McElhinney, M O’Reilly, L McLoone, C Toye.
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)