Cavan’s play was more fluid and direct in the first half and they weren’t flattered by their 0-6 to 1-1 interval lead against the side that beat them in the 2010 final.
Donegal captain Mark McHugh notched the opening point with a seventh minute free but it was another 17 minutes before the Tír Chonaill side added to their tally.
Despite hitting six first-half wides — to Donegal’s brace — Cavan were more efficient in most sectors.
A brace of scores from AFL target and man-of-the-match Barry Reilly and a gem from Niall McDermott helped edge the blues into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead.
Donegal hit back with interest though and Colin McGinley set up Dermot Molloy for a cracking goal six minutes from half-time.
Cavan took only 48 seconds to reestablish their ascendancy as the second half got underway, with Jack Brady firing over.
Kingscourt club man Reilly then pointed on the double to leave Cavan 0-9 to 1-1 in front nine minutes into the second half.
Donegal eventually ended a 22-minute barren period when Molloy’s free cut Cavan’s advantage to four points. They threw everything forward in the dying minutes but a brilliant save by Alan O’Mara from Seamus Corcoran helped secure Cavan’s place in the final.
A O’Mara: M Leddy, O Minagh, D Tighe; K Meehan, D Barkey, M Brady; G McKiernan (0-1), F Flanagan; N Smith (0-1), C McClarey, B Reilly (0-5, four frees); J Brady (0-2), N McDermott (0-2), P Leddy (0-1).
Subs: S Tierney for McClarey (42); N McKiernan for Leddy (45); N Murray for Flanagan (53); S Nolan for Brady (59); S Gray for Tighe (61).
P Boyle; D Curran, E Doherty, T McKinley; S Kennedy, L Keeney, C McGinley; C Classon, A McFadden; M McHugh (0-2, both frees), D Molloy (1-1, one free), D McLoughlin; K McFadden, R McErlean (0-1), P McBrearty.
Subs: K Ward for Curran (half-time); P McNeilis for McGinley (half-time); O McNiallais for Keeney (35); S Corcoran for McFadden (35); A Kelly for Kennedy (53).
Referee: M McErlene (Derry).