Late burst allows Donegal to break free
Donegal 0-12 Longford 0-7
For long periods, this was threatening to become an ordeal for Donegal but, finally, they did enough to see off Longford. Home supporters in the healthy 9,915 crowd watched through the gaps in their fingers for endless spells on an evening of 33 wides (17 of them by Donegal).
They were lifted considerably in a three-minute spell just before the hour that finally gave them a sight of the winning post. Patrick McBrearty, Jamie Brennan and Eoin McHugh reeled off the scores that broke Longford's resistance.
Brennan's was the score of the game, a delicious finish after Karl Lacey and Michael Murphy provided the ammunition.
In those moments, Donegal had victory in their nostrils for the first time. Longford were down to 14 men by that stage, James McGivney sent off for a 49th-minute foul on Eoghan Bán Gallagher that earned him a second yellow card.
The entire Longford half-forward line had their evenings ended due to ill-discipline as Daniel Mimnagh and Darren Gallagher were black-carded. With a full compliment, they might have been able to add to what is a considerable list of scalps.
For the first time since 2010, the green and gold bunting won't be upon Donegal lampposts for the Ulster final. Back then, the tenure of John Joe Doherty came to an abrupt end following a qualifier hammering by Armagh in Crossmaglen. That Saturday evening seven years ago, Longford were beating Mayo at Pearse Park, though Donegal and Mayo managed to get their stars aligned thereafter.
Longford, meantime, maintained a reputation as summer-enders with the likes of Derry, Down and Monaghan falling to the Midlanders in recent years. At half-time, Denis Connection's team was threatening to claim their biggest scalp yet. Three frees by midfielder David McGivney and another from Robbie Smyth helped Longford into a 0-4 to 0-3 interval lead.
Had corner-forward Smyth managed to get his hands properly on a ball at a time when he found himself in space between Neil McGee and Mark Anthony McGinley, a goal, surely, was on the cards. As it was, Donegal breathed a collective sigh of relief.
A 50-metre free by Michael Murphy and a delightful point by Patrick McBrearty couldn't lift Donegal, though Martin McElhinney brought a renewed edge to proceedings. McElhinney landed a point late in the first half and curled over to level the game 10 minutes into the second half.
In a good spell for the hosts, Rory Gallagher's team kicked seven out of eight points with Eoin McHugh in on the act on a daring raid from deep.
But Donegal were full of nerves and lacking the qualities that defined them in the league. Perhaps the Ulster semi-final loss to Tyrone was still in their system, but for now they'll be content just to have their names in tomorrow morning's draw.
At this stage, any win will do.
Scorers - Donegal: P McBrearty 0-5 (4f); M Murphy 0-3 (3f); M McElhinney 0-2; J Brennan, E McHugh 0-1 each. Longford: D McGivney (3f), R Smyth (3f) 0-3 each; D Masterson 0-1.
Donegal: MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, C Ward; E McHugh, R McHugh, E Gallagher; M Murphy, J McGee; M Carroll, F McGlynn, M Langan; C Thompson, P McBrearty, M O'Reilly. Subs: M McElhinney for Carroll (28), H McFadden for J McGee (49), J Brennan for O'Reilly (53), M McHugh for McGlynn (55), K Lacey for Langan (56), P Brennan for Gallagher (65).
Longford: P Collum; D Masterson, P McCormack, B Gilleran; D McElligott, M Quinn, D Reynolds; John Keegan, D McGivney; D Mimnagh, J McGivney, D Gallagher; R Smyth, L Connerton, B McKeon. Subs: C Berry for Mimnagh (bc, 26), L Moran for Gallagher (BC, 41), A Farrell for McKeon (65), R McIntyre for D McGivney (65), J Kelly for Connerton (70).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).
Sunday Indo Sport