Tyrone's bench helps Red Hands find way past Donegal to final
Ulster SFC semi-final: Tyrone 0-23 Donegal 1-14
There was always likely to be hard work made of winning this match with the victors made to sweat to the very end. Tyrone were possibly - possibly - able to relax for a couple of minutes in added time, but to do so they'd had to register the most scores they'd ever managed against Donegal in Championship combat, edging out the 22 (1-21) recorded in the semi-final four years ago.
Yesterday's tally of 23 took the Red Hands back into their first Ulster Final since then, and a first meeting in the decider with Monaghan since 2010, denying Donegal a 10th final appearance in 11 seasons.
Despite much going against them, including losing veteran full-back Neil McGee to injury very early on to a dubious challenge, then captain Michael Murphy to a yellow/black card combination before half-time, shortly after he'd missed a penalty, Donegal fought hard to maintain their recent hoodoo over their neighbours.
In the end, the Tir Chonaill men's efforts weren't enough, as their attack never really clicked into gear, albeit up against good match-ups and marking from the Red Hands.
Still, the six-point winning margin probably flattered Tyrone, who despite having an extra man for half the game only pulled clear after themselves going down to 14 for the last 10 minutes of this tense encounter.
They lost Kieran McGeary to a 67th minute black card, but the Pomeroy man had done enough to earn the 'man of the match' accolade on a day when both sides put in serious effort in high heat.
Tyrone's bench provided them with a major boost, notably Tiernan McCann and Conor McKenna, with the former grabbing three points and the latter one, as well as both injecting searing pace and drive.
Donegal never gave up, though, and might even have gone ahead after 62 minutes but goalscorer Caolan McGonigle could not keep control of the ball on the ground after skipping around goalkeeper Niall Morgan, and the danger was cleared by sweeper Frank Burns.
Tyrone were able to enjoy that extra protection in defence because of the numerical advantage given to them by Murphy's dismissal, a decision which annoyed and dismayed Donegal.
The Glenswilly giant had boosted Donegal hopes by being able to start, along with the talented Peadar Mogan, with Eoin McHugh and Ethan O'Donnell dropping out, while Brendan McCole, after coming on for the injured Stephen McMenamin against Derry, started in his stead. However, the St Naul's man struggled when he had to go onto McCurry in the second half, while McMenamin was pressed back into action as a replacement for McGee despite clearly not being fully fit.
With Tyrone full-back Ronan McNamee having overturned his red card from the Cavan clash he retained his place in defence, and the Aghyaran man did well against Donegal dangerman Paddy McBrearty. Richie Donnelly and Paul Donaghy dropped out of the Tyrone attack, replaced by Frank Burns and Brian Kennedy, the latter at midfield after netting against Cavan.
Donegal began brightly but McCurry might have found their net in the ninth minute, after Mattie Donnelly flicked on a long ball from Burns, but he couldn't adjust his body shape sufficiently to direct his shot around goalkeeper Shaun Patton, although he did point from the rebound.
So, as anticipated, it remained as close as the weather, even after all the potentially game-changing decisions made by referee Joe McQuillan.
In truth, Murphy had not made a major impact on the match, well marshalled by his Tyrone counterpart Padraig Hampsey, although the loss of a player in this rivalry is always a severe blow.
Yet even without their talismanic leader, there were never more than three points between the teams until the closing minutes, which made the penalty miss around the half-hour mark all the more significant.
A successful conversion would have swung a tight tussle in Donegal's favour, putting them five up, moments after Tyrone had seemed set to make it a one-point game.
The Red Hands attempted to smother Donegal in the right corner of their defence but they brilliantly played themselves out of trouble to Patton, who launched a lightning counter-attack up the left flank.
Ciaran Thompson was released to race through towards goal, only to be pulled down by Rory Brennan - resulting in a black card and a penalty kick.
Up stepped Murphy, who sent Morgan the wrong way - but also sent his shot against the outside of the left hand post. Tyrone themselves countered, and McGeary did leave the score 0-6 to 0-7.
Five minutes later it went from bad to worse for the Glenswilly man, black-carded and off after appearing to foot-trip the non-stop McGeary while stretching for a loose ball.
Although a lovely score from Thompson put Donegal in front once more, Tyrone ended the half ahead, 0-9 to 0-8.
With the lead and the numerical advantage the tide appeared to have turned in Tyrone's favour and they started the second half strongly, adding scores through substitute McCann and Niall Sludden.
However, as they'd done on a few occasions, Donegal ran at the heart of their opponents' defence, Eoghan Ban Gallagher finding Ryan McHugh who freed McGonigle and he lashed a fierce shot to the net.
That put the teams level for the seventh time, but when Tyrone quickly cancelled out the goal through scores from experienced duo Mattie Donnelly (2) and Peter Harte, it seemed that they would, at last, have some breathing space in the sweltering conditions.
Think again - Donegal restored parity once more just before the second water break, at 1-12 to 0-15, as their lively attackers found gaps in the Red Hand rearguard.
Conor McKenna had come on for Tyrone, clearly intent to make an impact, and scored one point before setting up another with an astonishing piece of play. Intercepting the ball deep in defence, he raced up the right wing before supplying McCurry for a sweet score.
With Donegal having released Gallagher completely from his defensive duties, his hard running drew some questionable frees, from which McBrearty made it a one-point game again after 63 minutes, 0-18 to 1-14.
Yet even without McGeary, penalised for an unfortunate bodycheck on Michael Langan, the Red Hands reeled off the final five scores without reply, as Donegal's energy reserves depleted.
Tyrone's reward may be a trip to Croke Park to take on Monaghan, with both counties deserving of major support after a wonderful weekend of Ulster football.
Donegal: S Patton; B McCole, N McGee, P Mogan (0-1); R McHugh, O McFadden Ferry, E Gallagher; H McFadden, C McGonigle (1-0); C Thompson (0-1), N O'Donnell (0-2), M Langan (0-2, 0-1 free); P McBrearty (0-4, 0-2 frees), M Murphy (capt.) (0-2 frees), J Brennan (0-2).
Substitutes: S McMenamin for N McGee (5, inj.); P Brennan for McFadden Ferry (46); O Mac Niallais for McFadden (47); E McHugh for J Brennan (64); A McClean for Mogan (72).
Yellow cards: Thompson (20); Murphy (23); P Brennan (74).
Black card: Murphy (36, first half)
Red card: Murphy (36, first half, yellow and black).
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey (capt.); R Brennan, M O'Neill, P Harte (0-1); B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; K McGeary (0-3), N Sludden (0-3), C Meyler (0-1); D McCurry (0-7, 0-3 frees), M Donnelly (0-2), F Burns (0-1).
Substitutes: T McCann (0-3) for Brennan (h-t); C McKenna (0-1) for Kilpatrick (47); B McDonnell for Kennedy (54); C McShane (0-1 free) for O'Neill (65); N Kelly for McKernan (68).
Yellow cards: Kennedy (51); Harte (60);
Black cards: Brennan (29-39); McGeary (67-end).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).