Donegal played like All-Ireland champions as they dismissed the challenge of Tyrone with a convincing second half performance in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
The introduction of Ross Wherity and Karl Lacey with just 11 minutes of the second half gone was a big turning point in the game. Lacey was a steadying influence at the back while Wherity found the Tyrone net to banish all those chances that went abegging during the league, against Tyrone and others.
Wherity, who celebrated his 25th birthday the day before, was making his championship debut and it’s one he won’t forget in a while.
It was a real statement of intent by Donegal, who bossed the second half in some style, limiting Tyrone to just three points, two in the opening five minutes and the third with the last kick of the game on 73 minutes.
In between the Red Hand men weren’t given a sniff with the McGees and Paddy McGrath outstanding in defence while Colm McFadden again showed that he likes playing against the red and white of Tyrone.
The game was long gone from Tyrone’s reach when they were reduced to 14 near the end with the dismissal of Joe McMahon for a second yellow. By that stage Tyrone’s discipline had also gone.
It was Donegal’s third victory in-a-row over Tyrone in the Ulster championship and the win fully avenged their last meeting at the venue in 1973, when Donegal were denied by questionable tactics. This time around it was Donegal who bossed the game, especially in the second half and they can look forward with some confidence to setting further records under Jim McGuinness.
The game certainly lived up to its billing with a fantastic opening half despite a downpour after 15 minutes.
Donegal opened really brightly with Colm McFadden punishing after Ryan Bradley was fouled.
Connor McAliskey levelled but by the seventh minute Donegal were three clear with Michael Murphy and McFadden pointing frees and David Walsh finishing well after good work by Frank McGlynn and Patrick McBrearty.
Sean Cavanagh pointed from a free while Donegal almost created a goal chance when a Michael Murphy sideline was fielded by McBrearty and he found McFadden, who was just off balance as he tried to shoot.
Niall Morgan came forward to point a free (one of three first half chances he had), but Neil Gallagher found Colm McFadden to loft over a beauty to put Donegal 5-3 ahead.
But then Tyrone hit their best patch of the half with points from Stephen O’Neill, Matthew Donnelly and Colm Cavanagh to go ahead for the first time in the game.
But Donegal struck for the opening goal in the 31st minute. Michael Murphy was fouled off the ball at midfield and the quickly delivered free was touched down by Patrick McBrearty to Colm McFadden and he found the corner of the net.
Michael Murphy followed this with a massive free from fully 55m to put Donegal three clear but a minute from the break Matthew Donnelly found the target again from a tricky angle to leave two between them at the break - Donegal 1-6, Tyrone 0-7
Tyrone had a good start to the second half with Justin McMahon pointing after Donegal denied them a goal chance and Sean Cavanagh had a score which was disputed but allowed to stand.
It was then that Donegal introduced Lacey and Wherity and although they were taking a chance with all five substitutes on the field so early, it proved the crucial moment.
The other critical moment came on 49 minutes when Patrick McBrearty outstripped the Tyrone defence and found Ross Wherity, who palmed home the second goal.
Very quickly McBrearty with his fist and Michael Murphy added points to push Donegal five clear and on their way.
As the game trundled towards an inevitable result, Rory Kavanagh and McBrearty embellished good individual displays with Donegal’s last two points, while Tyrone had the final score, Kyle Coney blasting over with the final kick of the game. Mark McHugh had denied Peter Harte a goal chance just minutes earlier.
Overall, a very good display from Donegal, who had to start without both Mark McHugh and Karl Lacey, but they had some very good invididual displays and when it came to the business end of the game, they were much the better side with six different scorers.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn; Declan Walsh, Eamon McGee; Anthony Thompson; Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Neil Gallagher; Ryan Bradley, Leo McLoone, David Walsh (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-2), Michael Murphy (0-3,2f), Colm McFadden (1-2,1f). Subs., Mark McHugh for McGlynn 21; Martin O’Reilly for Bradley ht; Martin McElhinney for David Walsh 42; Ross Wherity (1-0) for McLoone; Karl Lacey for Thompson, both 46.
Tyrone: Niall Morgan (0-1,f); PJ Quinn, Conor Clarke, Cathal McCarron; Justin McMahon (0-1), Joe McMahon, Conor Gormley; Colm Cavanagh (0-1), Sean Cavanagh (0-2,1f); Matthew Donnelly (0-2), Peter Harte, Mark Donnelly; Martin Penrose, Stephen O’Neill (0-1), Connor McAliskey (0-1). Subs., Patrick McNeice for McAliskey 26; Dermot Carlin for Quinn ht; Aidan Cassidy for Justin McMahon 55; Kyle Coney (0-1) for Mark Donnelly 59
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)