Donegal made light of the hazardous elements to easily overcome Monaghan in Omagh tonight and reach a third successive Ulster U-21 final.
First half goals from Jack O’Brien and Lorcan Connor meant that Maxi Curran’s side grabbed complete control of affairs on a night when it looked like the odd point would settle a contest with few scores.
They will face Tyrone, who defeated Armagh 2-12 to 2-8 in the other semi-final, which was switched to Breffni Park after Brewster Park was deemed unplayable, in the provincial decider this night week.
Monaghan rallied after the interval briefly as nerves ran through Donegal’s veins following the concession of a cheap goal on 40 minutes when Danny Rodgers misjudged a raking ball into the square from Kevin Loughran, who was on the sideline as he lumped in.
Donegal, though, weathered the storm - literally - when Ciaran Thompson smashed into an unguarded net on 49 minutes and Connor was on hand to tuck home his second goal of the night late on.
With the Healy Park pitch inspected twice yesterday before getting the go-ahead despite a series of puddles in the incessant rainfall, the floodlights then went out 10 minutes before throw-in.
It seemed at that stage that everyone might be as well off turning their cars for home. Monaghan, in retrospect, perhaps might’ve wished they had.
However, when the lights came on, the decision was made to go ahead with the game and for 23 minutes, it was a sport for well-conditioned ducks. At that stage, the score was 0-1 apiece with Darach O’Connor having cancelled out Ronan McAnespie’s opening score.
When Hugh McFadden popped over a close-range free to double Donegal’s total, few would’ve predicted the avalanche that was to follow. Quickfire points from Willie Gillespie, who had just been introduced, and then McFadden made it 0-4 to 0-1 and Monaghan’s hopes were further stumped when midfielder Conor Lavelle was sent off on 25 minutes having added a black to an early yellow.
Referee Kevin Trainor had already shown a sharp propensity to not take the conditions into account when he had black-carded Darragh Mulgrew on the quarter-hour for a challenge that was barely a yellow.
From a daring raid, O’Brien scored the first goal of the night on 27 minutes when he was set up by his other corner-back Conor Morrison.
Monaghan, at that stage, were going weak at the knees and before they could find their way back to their corner they’d conceded a second goal. Connor was on hand this time to finish after Ryan McHugh and O’Connor were involved in the move.
Donegal were 2-5 to 0-2 in front at the interval after a swift conclusion to the half and although Monaghan did carry the fight after the break. Loughran’s goal briefly blew a some fire into their challenge, only for it to become stuck in the swampy turf.
Donegal steadied themselves when Thompson and Eamonn McGrath pointed to leave them 2-7 to 1-3 in front. And when Monaghan goalkeeper David Kirk made a fine save to deny Gillespie, the rebound was drilled home by Thompson, who was man of the match in Donegal’s 1-7 to 0-9 in the quarter-final against Cavan, for a third goal on 49 minutes.
Donegal’s fourth goal came on 52 minutes when, following an enterprising break from McGrath, Connor was on hand to score to leave his team singing in the rain. The final minutes couldn’t have been much different to the dramatic scenes in the previous round against Cavan.
But after losing both the 2013 and 2014 Ulster finals to the Breffni County, now it’s Tyrone who stand in the way of a first provincial championships since the Jim McGuinness and Michael Murphy vintage of 2010.
Donegal: D Rodgers; C Morrison, C Parke, J O’Brien (1-0); O Crawford, R McHugh, E Gallagher; C Thompson (1-2), H McFadden (0-2, 1f); D Mulgrew, E McHugh (0-1), T McClenaghan; L Connor (2-0), D McDaid (0-1, 1f), D O’Connor (0-1). Subs: E McGrath for Mulgrew (black card, 15 ), W Gillespie (0-1) for Crawford (22), S McBrearty for McGrath (34), E McGrath (0-1) for McDaid (46), J Brennan for O’Connor (52), C O’Donnell for McClenaghan (56)
Monaghan: D Kirk; R Wylie, M Murnaghan, K Loughran; D Ward (0-1), S Conlon, F Malone; C Lavelle, B Greenan; R McAnespie, D McAllister, P Keenan; C McCarthy (1-2, 2f), F McGeough (0-1, 1f), F McMahon (0-1, 1f). Subs: D Meegan for McMahon (h-t), A Traynor for Conlon (50), M McCarville for Keenan (52), A Kieran for Ward (black card, 59).
Referee: K Trainor (Down)