Donegal came within seconds of holding on to their Allianz League Division 2 status before being caught with a late Tyrone point in injury time of the play-off clash with the Red Hands.
In a cracking contest that ebbed and flowed in Owenbeg on Saturday evening, Damien Casey was Tyrone’s saviour when he converted from a close-in free; just as Lee Henderson had been Donegal’s saviour at the end of normal time when he split the Tyrone posts from a somewhat controversial 40 metre free.
Tyrone midfielder Justin Kelly seemed to have his arm tugged as he broke free but was pulled up for over carrying and Henderson made no mistake with the conversion.
Tyrone had only seconds earlier taken the lead after they had clawed their way back into the game after being seven points down at half-time. Donegal led 3-4 to 0-6 at the break with Ronan McDermott scoring the three goals.
“This is a game we left behind us. We were seven points up at half-time and we were still well in front well into the second half and I thought we were well in control,” was how Donegal manager Ray Durack summed it up afterwards.
“Fair play to Tyrone, they never gave up and they whittled away at the lead and eventually they drew level.
“They came back at us strong and hit us for three goals and reeled us in and put us on the back foot and for the last 20 minutes of normal time we just seemed to stop playing.”
Damien Casey and Conor Grogan shot early points on the resumption before young Jack O’Loughlin hit Donegal’s first point of the second period ten minutes into the new half.
Donegal still led 3-5 to 0-8 before Casey got the revival up and running when he powered his way through to scramble the ball to the net from close range for the first of the Tyrone goals.
While Henderson pointed at the other end, Casey, who was causing all sorts of problems, converted from a 65 before he smashed home goal number two, after good work out on the wing by Sean Og Grogan.
The goal with a little over 11 minutes remaining tied up the game, Donegal 3-6, Tyrone 2-9.
But Donegal, who seemed to be tiring, somehow picked themselves up again and thanks to two quick points from Henderson, one from a 60 metre free, the other from play, Ray Durack’s men were two up with five minutes remaining.
However, a third Tyrone goal, this time drilled to the net by Sean Og Grogan after Casey has smashed off the posts, restored Tyrone to a 3-9 to 3-8 lead with two minutes of normal time remaining.
A super strike from Enda McDermott seconds later tied up the game once more. But all seemed lost when Justin Kelly popped over the lead point with the clock ticking down on 70 minutes.
However, there was a few more twists to come. Henderson converted in injury time for the draw and extra-time.
Tyrone had the better of the first period of the extra-time and led 4-12 to 3-12 thanks to a Conor Grogan goal.
But Donegal regrouped in the second period and McDermott’s fourth goal followed by a Brian Lafferty point saw Donegal go back in front by a point with time almost up. But an injury time Casey close-in free sent the tie to a replay.
“We said at half-time in extra-time we are going to have to up our game or else we are going to be back playing Division Three hurling next year.
“I don’t think Donegal needs that and in fairness to them they did that and they showed good character when the game seemed to be slipping away from them in the extra-time and thankfully we survived for another day.”
Donegal: Dylan Laverty; Padraig Doherty, Jamsie Donnelly, Mark Callaghan; Christopher McDermott, Joe Boyle, Niall Cleary; Danny Cullen, Ciaran Mathewson; Jack O’Loughlin (0-1), Enda McDermott (0-1), Kevin Campbell; Lee Henderson (0-8, 5f,65) Ronan McDermott (4-1), Brian Lafferty (0-2). Subs: Chris Kilgannon for B Lafferty; Eddie Lynch for K Campbell; J Downey for M Callaghan; Bernard Lafferty for C Mattewson.
Tyrone: J Devlin; C McNally, M O’Gorman, C Casey; P McHugh (0-1), D Begley, T Morgan; J Kelly (0-1), A Kelly; M Winters, Damien Casey (2-8,5f, 65); C Cross; C Grogan (1-1), Sean Og Grogan (1-1), Gerard Gilmore.Subs: M Grogan for C Casey; C Gallegher for C Cross; R Devlin for G Gilmore; G Gilmore (0-1) for R Devlin; R Devlin for J Kelly.
Referee: James Clarke (Cavan)