It was only in the final minutes that the destination of this brilliant Ulster semi-final was really known.
Eventually, Tyrone burned away with the brave effort of Donegal, who was down to just 14 men for more than half of the match, which is no longer enough to keep Tyrone in sight. It goes down in the record books as a six-point win for Tyrone at Enniskillen and they bounce back into a provincial decider, but that’s not nearly the whole story of the game.
If the focus was on Michael Murphy’s physical form early on, then he was at the center of two of the game’s greatest moments, his missed penalty and sent off.
Donegal was two for the good when they deftly managed to pull themselves out of an aggressive push from Tyrone that got them stuck in their own half. They escaped through goalie Shaun Patton and seconds later opened up Tyrone. Rory Brennan fought off Ciaran Thompson with a scoring chance.
Brennan was eliminated and Joe McQuillan awarded a penalty which gave Murphy the chance to put his team down to five. However, his effort cut the post and missed it. Tyrone, bouy by their escape, cut the next two scores of the match despite the fact that he had only 14 men left.
The drama kept coming. Within minutes of his failure, Murphy managed to shoot a loose ball which saw him catch the excellent Kieran McGeary. Murphy was already on yellow for a previous incident and McQuillan followed with a black to see Donegal go down to 14 men. It was a big blow, especially since they had already lost Neil McGee to injury. However, the sight of a Tyrone player calling for a card didn’t appeal to many.
Tyrone kicked the last point of the half to take a 0-8-0-7 lead at the break and leave them in preparation for an Ulster final.
With the second half only having a few minutes, Tiernan McCann put three between the sides, the biggest gap there had been at that point, and it looked like the writing was on the Wall.
Immediately, Donegal swept the field with Caolan McGonigle finishing a brilliant shot. Tyrone made three clears again, but Donegal, who was playing efficient and smart football on the counterattack, brought them back to level again. At the break, Tyrone was just a point to the good.
A free McBrearty nearing the hour mark left the minimum between the teams but Tyrone slowly took over. Conor McKenna made a good impact off the bench, as did McCann, who finished with three points.
And even though Kieran McGeary picked up a black who saw Tyrone also finish with 14 men, Donegal’s tank was empty. Michael Langan and McBrearty missed out on much needed free frees while Mattie Donnelly made hay on tired Donegal legs.
Tyrone kicked in the last six points of the day to miss the deserved winners and set up a final date in Ulster with Monaghan.
Tyrone – D McCurry 0-7 (3f), K McGeary, T McCann, N Sludden 0-3 each, M Donnelly 0-2, C McKenna, F Burns, P Harte, C Meyler, C McShane (1f) 0-1 each.
Donegal – P McBrearty 0-4 (2f), C McGonigle 1-0, M Murphy (2f), N O’Donnell, M Langan (1f), J Brennan 0-2 each, P Mogan, C Thompson 0-1.
TYRON: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; M O’Neill, F Burns, P Harte; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; K McGeary, N Sludden, C Meyler; D McCurry, M Donnelly, R Brennan SUBS: T McCann for Brennan (HT), C McKenna for Kilpatrick (46), B McDonnell for Kennedy (53), C McShane for O’Neill (62), N Kelly for McKernan (66 ).
DATA: Patton; B McCole, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; R McHugh, O McFadden Ferry, P Mogan; H McFadden, C McGonigle; C Thompson, N O’Donnell, M Langan; P McBrearty, M Murphy, J Brennan SUBS: S McMenamin for McGee (5), P Brennan for McFadden Ferry (45), O MacNiallais for McFadden (46), E McHugh for Brennan (62), A McClean for Mogan (69) .
REF: J McQuillan (Cavan)