South Down 1-12 Donegal 1-15 (aet)
Donegal finished strongly to qualify for the Lory Meagher Cup final with an extra-time win over South Down at Pairc Esler.
Niall Campbell was the Tir Chonaill hero, posting a 0-11 tally as the men from the north-west booked a trip to Croke Park for the third successive year.
What this game lacked in quality was compensated for in terms of excitement and drama, as both sides battled for supremacy.
Campbell steered over a couple of early frees to inject confidence into Donegal veins, but Down recovered from a slow start to get some momentum going.
After Emmet Trainor opened their account, Liam Morgan brought them level with a ’65.
And two superb efforts from far out on the right wing from John O’Kane made it 0-4 to 0-2 after 16 minutes.
Then came a Tir Chonaill flourish which saw them hit 1-4 on the spin to open up a five points lead.
The accurate Campbell knocked over three more frees, and Stephen Boyle added a neat effort from play.
And in the 23rd minute, a Campbell free was floated in from 90 metres, and Enda McDermott deflected the sliothair into the net.
South Down, trailing by 1-6 to 0-4, responded with a goal of their own two minutes later, Kieran Courtney smashing an angled shot to the roof of the net.
And in the closing stages of the half, points were exchanged rapidly, with Donegal’s Campbell and South Down’s Morgan both hitting the target to send the teams in at the break deadlocked on 1-8 each.
Campbell continued to hit the target from placed balls, easing the men from the north-west into a two points lead, but the home side regrouped, and scores from Eoin McGuinness and Liam Morgan saw them ease a head once again.
Defences were very much on top for long stages of a scrappy second half, but Donegal managed to cut through the South Down rearguard for Mickey McCann to send Campbell through for his tenth point of the contest, and the sides were level again with 10 minutes to play.
Donegal did have a chance to win it in stoppage time, but Lee Henderson’s ’65 dropped short, and at 1-11 each, the teams headed into extra-time.
Henderson and McDermott were on target to give Donegal a 1-13 to 1-11 lead midway through extra-time
And they pushed on, with Campbell bringing his tally to 11 points, Donegal running out three points winners.
South Down: D Kearns, C Teague, J McGrath, P Byrne, A McGuinness, K Courtney (1-0), E Donnelly, L Morgan 0-6 (4f, 1 ’65), P McAleenan (0-1), J O’Kane (0-3), E Trainor (0-1), E McGuinness (0-1), M Magee, M Cunningham, A Brown.
Subs: P Sheehan for McAleenan, N Burns for Magee, L Deegan for Brown, J Brown for Burns, McAleenan for J Brown
Donegal: P O’Brien, S O’Connor, C Breathnach, A McDermott, J Donnelly, C Dowds, J Boyle, E Organ, S Boyle (0-1), N Campbell (0-11, 9f), P Sheridan, E McDermott (1-1), M McCann, C Mathewson, P Hannigan.
Subs: L Henderson (0-1) for Organ, R McDermott (0-1) for Mathewson, M McGhee for McCann.
Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).