Tyrone ended Donegal’s summer and broke Sean MacCumhaill’s status as a fortress with a stunning fourth quarter.
Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 2-17
By Chris McNulty at Sean MacCumhaill Park
The Red Hands scored 2-7 from the 55th minute and when Declan McClure netted Tyrone’s second goal, in the 47th minute of the second half, the lights had long since gone out on Donegal’s day – and their Championship.
Donegal’s Leo McLoone keeps a close eye on Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly during Sunday’s game. Photo Evan Logan
Donegal had led by four points when Paddy McGrath clipped over in the 54th minute and they looked set to book a place in next Sunday’s semi-final against Monaghan, but the game went completely awry and the day turned sour when Harry Loughran bagged their first goal in the 63rd minute.
It was the biggest game ever played – or, indeed, ever likely to be played – in Ballybofey, but the sight of a red and white sea upon their turf, where they were unbeaten in 21 League and Championship games going back to a 2010 defeat to Down.
This will sting long and sting hard for Declan Bonner’s Donegal, who had netted what for a long time felt like the big score through Michael Murphy late in the first half.
But Tyrone stayed in touch and, seven minutes from time, after Mickey Harte’s men reeled off three-in-a-row from Lee Brennan, Pádraig Hampsey and Kieran McGeary, the Red Hands struck for a goal.
Tiarnan McCann fed to the far post and Loughran ghosted in to apply the finish. Just ten minutes beforehand, Donegal were four points in front, but were now two down and running of time.
Tyrone’s bench ended with 2-5 with Donegal managing just one point, via Niall O’Donnell, from their replacements.
McClure tucked home after a breakaway move that involved Rory Brennan and Loughran. Donegal were crushed and it felt like an age since Murphy had ignited Donegal.
Donegal had only just gone in front for the first time through a fisted Jamie Brennan effort when they pounced on an error by Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan.
His kick-out was a poor one, directed straight to Ryan McHugh. The moment McHugh off-loaded to Michael Murphy, the next step was inevitable. Morgan got a touch, but the flames from the thunderous swing of the Glenswilly man’s right boot were just too hot.
Remarkably, it was Murphy’s first goal in Championship football for Donegal since that magical moment early in the 2012 All-Ireland final to send Donegal on their way to lifting Sam Maguire.
Donegal, all of a sudden, led by four. A Connor McAliskey free reduced the arrears with Donegal 1-6 to 0-6 ahead at the break.
When Tyrone lost here in the 2013 Ulster Championship, Morgan fluffed his lines with a series of frees. And in this game of millimetres, it felt crucial when McAliskey first saw a free caught by Hugh McFadden and then arrowed with with a chance to open up a three-point lead.
Six minutes before half time, Morgan assumed responsibility after McFadden was late on Tiarnan McCann, but the Edendork man sent his shot wide at the jeering Town End.
And yet, when Tyrone went three points ahead with two minutes to go, it was Morgan who kept his cool this time to arch over a beauty that felt like a dagger through the Donegal arteries.
McCann opened the scoring after just 18 seconds to set the tone for a ferocious afternoon by the Finn.
Mattie Donnelly had Tyrone two up in the 20th minute when his effort inched over with Donegal kept in touch by a pair of Murphy dead-balls.
Donegal were level when McHugh rose to the challenge with an excellent point and Ciaran Thompson forced his way through the bodies to restore parity.
It was two in a minute from Donegal, but Colm Cavanagh’s response was instant as Tyrone hit the front once more.
Brennan levelled and, then, put them in front before the plates shifted as Murphy slammed home and the goal stood between them at the interval, as Donegal headed down the tunnel with a 1-6 to 0-6 lead to hold onto.
The atmosphere hadn’t taken long to reach boiling point.
It has simmered since 1973 – and a infamous afternoon that led to calls for Donegal to withdraw from Ulster football – after all.
In the build-up, Bonner called for McHugh to be given more ‘protection’, citing up to a dozen fouls per game on the Kilcar flyer. And after four minutes, McHugh was felled by Tyrone corner-back Michael McKernan, who got a black card and had his evening ended before it had time to begin.
Five years ago, Stephen O’Neill ran into the wall of bricks otherwise known as Neil McGee and ended sprawled on the turf.
Here, a 12th minute hit by McGee on Cathal McShane shook even the trees of Drumboe Woods and earned the Gaoth Dobhair man a yellow card.
Eoghan Ban Gallagher, who picked up an elbow injury in Donegal’s win over Roscommon a fortnight ago, looked set to be ruled out, but the Killybegs man, after two weeks of intense speculation about his participation, took his station in the rearguard.
McGee came in for Paul Brennan as Bonner made one change to his XV from their excursion to Dr Hyde Park.
Tyrone might have had the goal they craved – and needed – but Cathal McShane couldn’t connect with Lee Brennan’s ball across in the 50th minute.
Brennan scored with his first two touches after coming on for Richard Donnelly and there were eight points and five yellow cards in a helter-skelter third quarter.
Around those manic minutes, it took a mighty block from Ryan McHugh to prevent sub Harry Loughran from an equalising goal. Donegal marched up the other end and a delightful point from Paddy McGrath, curling in at the last second, opened up a four-point lead.
Tyrone, as is their won’t, were hardly going to go quietly and they were energised when Brennan and Pádraig Hampsey took them back to within two points.
It was wafer thin when McGeary slammed over and Donegal were in danger of capsizing under the strain when Murphy was wide from a ’45.
And they were submerged when Loughran goaled and the way back proved too long as Tyrone scored a first Championship win in Ballybofey since 1973 and they go now to Croke Park in seven days’ time to face Monaghan in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Paddy McGrath (0-1), Neil McGee, Stephen McMenamin; Eoghan Ban Gallagher (0-1), Eamonn Doherty, Frank McGlynn, Hugh McFadden, Michael Murphy (1-2, 1f, 1 ’45); Ciaran Thompson (0-1), Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh (0-1); Jamie Brennan (0-3), Odhrán Mac Niallais (0-2), Michael Langan (0-1). Subs: Paul Brennan for Thompson (49), Niall O’Donnell (0-1) for Mac Niallais (56), Anthony Thompson for McGlynn (60), Martin McElhinney for Langan (63), Martin O’Reilly for McLoone (67), Mark McHugh for McGrath (70).
Tyrone: Niall Morgan (0-1, 1f); Michael McKernan, Ronan McNamee (0-1), Frank Burns; Tiarnan McCann (0-1), Cathal McShane, Conor Meyler; Colm Cavanagh (0-1), Pádraig Hampsey (0-2); Connor McAliksey (0-2, 2f), Mattie Donnelly (0-2), Peter Harte (0-1, 1f); Mark Bradley (0-1), Richard Donnelly, Niall Sludden. Subs: Rory Brennan for McKernan (black card, 5), Kieran McGeary (0-1) for Burns (39), Lee Brennan (0-4, 1f) for R.Donnelly (39), Harry Loughran (1-0) for McAliskey (48), Conall McCann for McShane (53), Declan McClure (1-0) for Sudden (68).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).