Ulster Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final
Donegal 2-12 Fermanagh 0-11
Two goals from Odhran MacNiallais helped 14-man Donegal through to an Ulster SFC semi-final which failed to catch fire in Ballybofey.
The game was perfectly poised at the break after a straight red card for Neil McGee resulted in a penalty for Fermanagh, but Sean Quigley’s tame shot was easily saved leaving Donegal 1-6 to 0-7 ahead.
Although Tomas Corrigan’s free after the restart closed the gap to a point, Fermanagh couldn’t live with Donegal in the second half and MacNiallais, who’d scored a spectacular 13th minute goal, fisted home a second after 45 minutes to kill the game.
A seven-point win for Donegal didn’t look likely at half time, but they powered through the second period to set up another Ulster showdown with Monaghan for the fourth year in a row.
Despite not having played a competitive match in nine weeks, Donegal looked sharp early on and Paddy McBrearty and Frank McGlynn kicked them into a two-point lead after five minutes.
Fermanagh struggled to match Donegal’s intensity in the opening exchanges, but drew level through Tomas Corrigan’s free and Barry Mulrone’s point after their best move.
Donegal were the better team in the opening 20 minutes with McGlynn, Eoin McHugh and the superb MacNiallais pulling the strings.
MacNiallais fired a spectacular goal in the 13th minute after McGlynn slipped a perfectly-timed pass to release him on the left.
His left-footed shot flew across Chris Snow into the roof of the net to put the home side ahead 1-3 to 0-2.
Donegal stayed on top and pulled five points clear at 1-5 to 0-3 after 17 minutes with Eoin McHugh using his searing pace to break free to score.
McBrearty tried to stretch their lead further, but Snow saved his point-blank shot.
Fermanagh, who came into the game with high hopes, weren’t rattled by falling behind and had a great spell before half time.
Tomas Corrigan and Eoin Donnelly pointed and they almost drew level when Ruairi Corrigan pounced on a ball that came off the post, but Paddy McGrath and goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley combined to smother his shot.
When MacNiallais scored a long-range effort a few seconds later, it seemed like a decisive moment, but Fermanagh rallied again with Tomas Corrigan converting two frees to bring them to within two points.
The first half ended in controversy with Neil McGee receiving a straight red card for a high elbow challenge on Ruairi Corrigan in the square, which resulted in a penalty.
Aidan Breen’s ball floated into the square was well caught by Sean Quigley, who seemed to be fouled by Eamon McGee but play was waved on. With the action still in the square, Neil McGee’s challenge caught Corrigan and was dismissed, with Fermanagh getting the penalty in the last act of the half.
Sean Quigley’s poorly struck shot down the middle was easily saved by McGinley, blowing Fermanagh’s best chance of taking a half-time lead.
Instead, 14-man Donegal led 1-6 to 0-7 at the break and they came out with renewed determination at the start of the second half.
While Corrigan’s 38th minute closed the gap to a point, that was as good as it got for Fermanagh who then went 20 minutes without scoring.
In between times, Donegal scored 1-4 without reply to effectively win the game, MacNiallais fisting a second goal in the 45th minute after Eoin McHugh’s pass.
Che Cullen picked up a black card for tripping an unusually quiet Michael Murphy, who scored his only point in the 44th minute.
Fermanagh’s challenge faded dramatically in the second half, and MacNiallais’ second goal knocked the stuffing out of Pete McGrath’s side, who will travel to Wexford in the first round All-Ireland qualifiers in two weeks time.
Scorers for Donegal: O MacNiallais 2-1, P McBrearty 0-3 (1f), M O’Reilly 0-2, E McHugh 0-2, M Murphy 0-1 (f), F McGlynn 0-1, M McElhinney 0-1, C McFadden 0-1 (f).
Scorers for Fermanagh: T Corrigan 0-7 (7fs), E Donnelly 0-1, S Quigley 0-1, B Mulrone 0-1, R Jones 0-1.
Donegal: MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, H McFadden; E McHugh, M McElhinney, O MacNiallais; P McBrearty, M Murphy, M O’Reilly.
Subs: L McLoone for Kavanagh (12), C Toye for McLoone (HT), R Kavanagh for McGlynn (53), M McHugh for McElhinney (59), C McFadden for McBrearty (69)
Fermanagh: C Snow; M Jones, C Cullen, M O’Brien; D McCusker, J McMahon, B Mulrone; E Donnelly, A Breen; P McCusker, R Jones, R O’Callaghan; R Corrigan, S Quigley, T Corrigan.
Subs: D Kelly for Cullen (BC, 47), 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).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).
Report: Orla Bannon