In a truly outstanding performance, Donegal are through to their second All-Ireland final in three years as they dismissed a Dublin side thought to be invincible in Croke Park.
They had a shaky period in the opening 25 minutes but once they found their way, Dublin were not able to match them with Donegal squeezing the life out of them and then opening them up for two second half goals which put them on their way.
It was the performance that Jim McGuinness was looking for and his plan worked perfectly. Dublin were sucked in and once they were put on the back foot they were found wanting in a big way.
For the first time ever, I will break with tradition in a match report and not pick a single player as man of the match. It was that type of performance from Donegal - men of the match all over the field, from the tigerish Paddy McGrath to Michael Murphy at full-forward. Paul Durcan was supreme with his kick-outs, eclipsing Stephen Cluxton; the McGees got to grips with the Brogans; Anthony Thompson was everywhere; Karl Lacey may be a little slower, but he has a great football brain.
McGuinness pushed Neil Gallagher forward and he controlled the airwarves; Odhran MacNiallais ran his heart out; Ryan McHugh made full use of the open spaces in the Dublin defence . . . I could go on and on.
It was a magnificent first half with Donegal looking in big trouble with the free-scoring Dubs on top, but then Donegal hit a purple patch to go in at the break one up.
After Michael Murphy getting Donegal off the mark from a free won by Rory Kavanagh inside a minute, Dublin reeled off four wonderful points, one better than the next from Paul Flynn (2), Bernard Brogan and Diarmaid Connolly.
Neil McGee denied Bernard Brogan a goal with a last ditch tackle before Michael Murphy set up Karl Lacey for Donegal’s second point on 12 minutes.
But the points still flowed at the other end with Flynn, Connolly and Philly McMahon opening the gap to five by the 19th minute.
A Michael Murphy after another free won by Kavanagh was some respite but Alan Brogan replied.
Rory Kavanagh found the range before Paul Durcan denied Connolly a goal from point blank range. When Connolly opened the gap to five again on 26 minutes, the game seemed to be drifting from Donegal.
But then Christy Toye came on for David Walsh and somehow Donegal found a new rhythm. Neil Gallagher and Toye set up Ryan McHugh to point and Odhran MacNiallais cut the margin to three by the 28th minute.
Michael Murphy, untypically, was short from 30m but then landed a mighty effort from 45m. On 32 minutes Murphy was on the of a high ball in front of the goal. It broke and Colm McFadden set up Ryan McHugh to slide home and Donegal were in front.
MacNiallais won a free for McFadden to double the lead before the excellent Paul Flynn had the final point in added time to leave the half-time score, Donegal 1-8, Dublin 0-10.
The third quarter was, once again, the time for Donegal to push on. Eamon McGee found Anthony Thompson on one of his marauding runs, and he broke the tackle to find Ryan McHugh free in front of goal to palm home the second goal with just three minutes on the clock.
Neil Gallagher won the kick-out and Ryan McHugh went through the middle to find Colm McFadden to fist a point.
The Brogans had Dublin points but Donegal hit back with Patrick McBrearty sending Frank McGlynn in to point and on 46 minutes MacNiallais got through and found Colm McFadden, who showed great composure to round Cluxton and fire home the third goal. The St. Michael’s man added a free two minutes later to put Donegal eight points clear - 3-11 to 0-12.
Connolly and a Brogan free reduced the margin but Michael Murphy put Ryan McHugh through again and his shot for goal went just over the bar.
As the Dublin shooting became ragged (they had 10 second half wides), Paddy Andrews and a Connolly free was all they could come up with while Patrick McBrearty hit the final two points for Donegal in the 59th and 63rd minutes. Dublin could only manage a late, late effort from Paddy Andrews in reply.
Dublin had to go for goals but the Donegal defence were in no mood to give them a chance. Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath both picked up black cards in that final period but just at the death, Michael Murphy, on his knees, stopped the final Dublin attempt to send Donegal into the All-Ireland final.
It was a day to remember and the final will be also one of those special days - Donegal against Kerry at minor and senior level.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Eamon McGee, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey (0-1), Frank McGlynn (0-1); Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy (0-3,2f); David Walsh, Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh (2-2); Odhran MacNiallais (0-1), Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Colm McFadden (1-3,f). Subs., Christy Toye for Walsh 28; Patrick McBrearty (0-2) for McLoone 42; Declan Walsh for N McGee, black card 58; Martin McElhinney for Kavanagh 60; Darach O’Connor for McFadden 63; Martin O’Reilly for MacNiallais 69.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Michael Fitzsimons, Rory O’Carroll, Philip McMahon (0-1); James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Jack McCaffrey; Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O’Sullivan; Paul Flynn (0-4), Cormac Costello, Diarmuid Connolly (0-5,1f); Alan Brogan (0-3,1f), Eoghan O’Gara, Bernard Brogan (0-3,1f). Subs., Nicky Devereux for McCaffrey ht; Kevin McManamon for Costello 40; Dean Rock for O’Gara 47; Paddy Andrews (0-2) for A Brogan 53; Darren Daly for Cooper 61; Paul Mannion for O’Sullivan 68.
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)