Red Hand bench leads power surge to blow out Donegal
Tyrone 2-17 Donegal 1-13
At the end the Tyrone supporters massed in a packed MacCumhaill Park broke the cordon and swelled onto the field to acclaim their team.
What triggered such a euphoric reaction is difficult to tell but an acknowledgement of their players' resilience, not just here but over the last 11 weeks of recovery from that early season defeat to Monaghan on their home turf, is sure to have figured highly.
Once again Mickey Harte's record of recovery as a manager from early season defeats enjoyed another significant embellishment as Tyrone set up a third All-Ireland semi-final appearance in six years.
Harte's experiences in 2015, 2013 and even as far back as 2008, when they also lost a first-round provincial fixture but claimed an All-Ireland title, have stood to him and helped him to plot a path back to a familiar place once more.
It was a storming finish from Tyrone, who outscored the Ulster champions by 2-7 to 0-2 in the final 20 minutes.
When Paddy McGrath scored only the second championship point of his career on 53 minutes to end a move which began at the other end with Ryan McHugh and Michael Murphy combining to thwart Harry Loughran, it pushed Donegal four points clear, 1-11 to 0-10.
In a tight, tense contest like this, such an advantage amounts to a lot and it certainly felt like Donegal had turned for home.
But Tyrone just kept coming and coming and refused to bend to the will of a team that had been unbeaten in 21 league or championship games at the venue, dating back to 2010.
Fuelled by the impact of their six substitutes and steeled by a spike in urgency and intensity across the field, they attacked in greater numbers, committed more tacklers to the Donegal man in possession and crucially, got to work on the hosts' kick-out, from which Shaun Patton had been getting an armchair ride.
Four points ahead, Donegal tried to manage the lead too early and ultimately couldn't match the impact that Lee Brennan, Kieran McGeary and goalscorers Harry Loughran and Declan McClure gave Tyrone off the bench.
Between them, they scored 2-5 (Brennan converted a free), mirroring similar contributions from their cavalry throughout this 'Super 8s' series.
Loughran's goal was the turning point, just as it was in Navan when Tyrone survived their first-round qualifier game against Meath. There was an element of luck attached to it as Tiernan McCann's fisted pass looked like an attempted point on 62 minutes.
But it was inviting enough for Loughran to chase and nudge the visitors into a one-point lead, prising open Donegal's grip that had hardened through the third quarter. They didn't look back after that as Donegal wilted badly.
It had come off a precision Niall Morgan kick-out to find another replacement, Conal McCann, around midfield to set the move in motion.
By contrast, it was Morgan's short kick-out just before the break that had given Donegal a foothold in the first place, Ryan McHugh intercepting the delivery intended for Padraig Hampsey and setting up Michael Murphy from close range for his first championship goal since 2012.
McHugh had been such a big influence for Donegal in that opening half, making the openings together with Jamie Brennan to help them establish a 0-6 to 0-5 lead.
Tyrone, who lost Michael McKernan to a black card in the fourth minute for taking out McHugh, looked jittery and uncertain, despite enjoying greater territory, with missed frees by Conor McAliskey (twice) and Morgan hurting them.
McAliskey recovered to convert and make it 1-6 to 0-6 at the break but Tyrone really had to steel themselves at the break, as Harte acknowledged.
"There was still a resilience in the changing room," he reflected. "We knew that this was not 'throw in the towel' time, this didn't need to be like it was here a few times before, we could change the script. The boys were very, very resilient in their attempts to do that."
Donegal still had control in the third quarter, with Odhran MacNiallais, who later went off injured, and Brennan in particular slowly turning the screw.
But Brennan's impact from his 38th-minute introduction was swift, with two points, illustrating that a less cautious approach than Tyrone had applied in the opening half could find openings.
At the other end, they got more physical in their engagement with Donegal's forwards too, typified by Colm Cavanagh's growth into the game.
The energy of McCann, McGeary and Mattie Donnelly, involved in so many early scores, also made a substantial difference.
Donnelly got a crucial score off another Morgan kick-out, this time claimed by Peter Harte, in response to Eoghan Ban Gallagher's point that had reduced the deficit back to the minimum after Loughran's goal.
When Morgan followed with a converted free, something he has struggled with during past visits to Ballybofey on championship days, Tyrone really began to feel it was their day, pushing them out to a three-point lead towards the end of normal time.
The game was gone on Donegal when Loughran and McClure combined on the counter-attack for the latter to punch home a late goal.
Harte acknowledged the contribution of his bench, implying that holding players worthy of starting places was deliberately choreographed for the kind of impact they delivered.
"It's a hit and miss job because you want to introduce people to make a difference in the game and, through the qualifiers, we've discovered how important that is," he said.
"There are people who didn't start the game today who are worthy to be on the team but they are also big enough to play for the team and come in, knowing that they're going to make a difference.
"If you started them, you wouldn't be sure that the people that you would be leaving off could come in and make the same impact.
"There are players who are good at that - obviously Kieran McGeary stands out as a really quality player at that particular role."
For Donegal, they'll still count the season as one of progress after reclaiming an Ulster title but this will leave a hollow feel, to lose a game they had control of.
"We set out our goals early on in terms of winning an Ulster title, getting to the Super 8s," said manager Declan Bonner. "There's a lot of new lads coming in there but at the same time we're very disappointed that we've exited the championship in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey."
Scorers - Tyrone: L Brennan 0-4 (1f), D McClure, H Loughran 1-0 each, P Hampsey, C McAliskey (2fs), M Donnelly 0-2 each, N Morgan, R McNamee, C Cavanagh, P Harte (f), K McGeary, T McCann, M Bradley all 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 1-2 (0-2fs), J Brennan 0-3, O MacNiallais 0-2, N O'Donnell, EB Gallagher, R McHugh, M Langan, C Thompson, P McGrath all 0-1 each.
Tyrone - N Morgan 7; M McKernan, R McNamee 7, F Burns 6; T McCann 8, M Donnelly 8, C Meyler 7; C Cavanagh 7, P Hampsey 7; C McShane 5, P Harte 7, N Sludden 6; C McAliskey 5, R Donnelly 5, M Bradley 6. Subs: R Brennan 6 for McKernan b-c (4), L Brennan 8 for R Donnelly (38), K McGeary 8 for Burns (39), H Loughran 7 for McAliskey (48), C McCann 7 for McShane (53), D McClure for Sludden (68).
Donegal - S Patton 8; P McGrath 8, N McGee 6, S McMenamin 6; E Ban Gallagher 7, F McGlynn 7, E Doherty 6; H McFadden 5, L McLoone 6; R McHugh 8, M Langan 6, C Thompson 6; O MacNiallais 7, M Murphy 7, J Brennan 8. Subs: P Brennan 6 for Thompson (49), N O'Donnell 6 for MacNiallais (56), A Thompson 6 for McGlynn (60), M McElhinney 6 for Langan (63), M O'Reilly for McLoone (67), M McHugh for McGrath (71).
Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan)
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