Donegal have not sacrificed all their famous defensive principles, but they do have a distinctly sharper edge in attack, and with Paddy McBrearty in sparkling form, they carved out a comfortable victory over Derry in the Ulster SFC quarter-final at Celtic Park.
Declan Bonner’s side never trailed, and were more convincing winners than the six points margin would suggest, as they confidently set up a semi-final clash with last year’s beaten finalists Down.
The concession of 16 points to a team that has crashed into Division Four of the NFL will be a source of concern to new manager Bonner, but he has two weeks to continue the search for the optimum balance between defence and attack.
Michael Murphy’s form is another positive, while goalkeeper Shaun Patton’s long and accurate kick-outs launched numerous attacks.
Hugh McFadden and substitute Cian Mulligan struck the goals which made all the difference, while the Oak Leafers depended too heavily for scores on Emme Bradley (0-8) and Mark Lynch (0-5).
Donegal were quickly into their stride against a neighbouring side that had played its league football two divisions below in recent months.
They race into a four points lead inside seven minutes, with Michael Murphy heavily involved, and midfield pair Leo McLoone and McFadden laying a solid platform.
McLoone scored twice, with Murphy also on target from long range, and Jamie Brennan hitting the target as well.
It wasn’t until the 11th minute that Lynch converted a free to get the Oak Leafers off the mark, but moments later, Donegal got in for a goal, Ryan McHugh providing the final pass for McFadden to beat Ben McKinless from close range.
Derry made a positive response, with scores from Lynch and Emmet Bradley, but once again, Declan Bonner’s side worked the openings for Paddy McBrearty to get a couple of scores , with McHugh also adding a point.
But Sean Leo McGoldrick probed from deep and Emda Lynn started to threaten along the right flank, and Derry began to get some joy.
Bradley fired over four points on the spin, including a fine effort from play and a difficult free from wide on the right, to move to within three points.
But Donegal finished the half strongly, two more McBrearty efforts sending them in with a 1-10 to 0-7 lead.
Bradley added a couple more to his tally, but the loss of full back Brendan Rogers was a further setback for a Derry side struggling to contain a Donegal side that had Murphy and Odhran MacNiallais sitting deep and picking the passes which stretched the Derry defence.
McBrearty sent a couple of brilliant scores flying between the posts, while Murphy steered over a a’45, and McLoone hit his third point.
Another of Patton’s searching kick-outs launched the attack which finished with Donegal’s second goal in the 64th minute.
Daire O Baoill slipped a pass to Mulligan, who gave goalkeeper Ben McKinless no chance with a bullet-like shot that opened up an eight points lead.
Derry’s provincial title race had been run, but they finished with spirit and fervour. Bradley saw an effort for goal come back off a post, while James Kielt, Niall Toner and Lynch all tagged on scores late on.
Derry: B McKinless; P McNeill, B Rogers, K McKaigue; K Johnston, C McKaigue, SL McGoldrick; C McAtamney, M Bateson; P Cassidy, E Bradley (0-8, 5f), P Coney; E Lynn, S McGuigan, M Lynch (0-5, 4f).
Subs: L McGoldrick for SL McGoldrick (h-t), J Doherty for Bateson (h-t), C McWilliams for Rogers (51), N Toner (0-1) for McGuigan (54), J Kielt (0-2) for McAtamney (60), P Hagan for Cassidy (60)
Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; C Ward, F McGlynn, P Brennan, H McFadden (1-0), L McLoone (0-3); C Thompson, M Langan, R McHugh (0-2); P McBrearty (0-8, 3f), M Murphy (0-2, 1 ’45), J Brennan (0-1).
Subs: S McMenamin for McGee (3), O MacNiallais for Langan (h-t), C Mulligan (1-0) for P Brennan (43), C McGinley for Thompson (49), D O Baoill for McGrath (59), M McHugh for McGlynn (65)
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).