The second of two goals from the inspirational Odhran MacNiallais in the 45th minute came during their familiar power-play surge, when they scored 1-4 without reply inside 11 minutes to knock the stuffing out of Fermanagh.
All this after a controversial end to the first half, when Neil McGee received a straight red card for a high elbow on Ruairi Corrigan in the square — the correct call — and Fermanagh were awarded a penalty.
Sean Quigley’s tamely hit shot down the middle was easily saved by new Donegal ‘keeper Mark Anthony McGinley in the last act of the first half.
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher and Neil McGee remonstrated with referee Maurice Deegan about the red card as the teams left the field in MacCumhaill Park, and Gallagher was still unhappy about the incident afterwards.
“I thought I heard a whistle for a free out and Neil is adamant that he heard a whistle for a free out and then he kind of shrugged his man off,” he said.
“Neil said the referee blew the whistle first for a free out. All I will say is that there was a decision near our sideline where there was an elbow to the head of one of our players which the referee gave a free for. Why give a free and not act on it?”
Fermanagh came to Ballybofey with high hopes they could win and at least give us a first competitive Ulster championship game of the summer. They were right in the game, trailing 1-6 to 0-7 at the interval and they scored the first point of the second half. But they faded alarmingly in a second half which failed to catch fire, MacNiallais’ second goal a blow they never recovered from.
Despite not having played a competitive match in nine weeks, Donegal looked sharp early on and Paddy McBrearty and Frank McGlynn kicked them into a two-point lead after five minutes.
Fermanagh struggled to match Donegal’s intensity in the opening exchanges but drew level through Tomas Corrigan’s free and Barry Mulrone’s point after their best move. Donegal were the better team in the opening 20 minutes with McGlynn, Eoin McHugh and the superb MacNiallais pulling the strings. MacNiallais fired a spectacular goal in the 13th minute after McGlynn’s perfectly-timed pass released him. His left-footed shot flew across Chris Snow into the roof of the net to put the home side 1-3 to 0-2 head. Donegal stayed on top and pulled five clear at 1-5 to 0-3.
McBrearty almost stretched their lead further, but Snow saved his point-blank shot with his legs. Fermanagh refused to panic and had a great spell before half time.
Tomas Corrigan and Eoin Donnelly pointed and they almost drew level when Ruairi Corrigan pounced on a ball that came off the post. Fermanagh rallied again with Tomas Corrigan converting two frees to bring them to within two points.
The first half ended in a blaze of talking points with the penalty and red card.
Sean Quigley caught Aidan Breen’s floated ball into the square and with the action still in the square, Neil McGee’s rash challenge floored Corrigan. When the penalty was eventually taken, Quigley hit it down the middle, blowing Fermanagh’s chance of a half-time lead.
14-man Donegal looked in trouble but they came out with renewed determination at the start of the second half. While Corrigan’s 38th minute free closed the gap to a point, that was as good as it got for Fermanagh who then went 20 minutes without a score. Donegal powered home with that purple patch of 1-4, MacNiallais fisting a second goal in the 45th minute after Eoin McHugh’s pass, and Fermanagh’s challenge faded.
Che Cullen picked up a black card for tripping Michael Murphy, who scored his only point in the 44th minute but they’ll need more from him in 13 days time, as Monaghan loom large.
O MacNiallais 2-1, P McBrearty 0-3 (1f), M O’Reilly 0-2, E McHugh 0-2, M Murphy 0-1 (f), F McGlynn 0-1, M McElhinney 0-1, C McFadden 0-1 (f)
T Corrigan 0-7 (7f), E Donnelly 0-1, S Quigley 0-1, B Mulrone 0-1, R Jones 0-1
MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, H McFadden; E McHugh, M McElhinney, O MacNiallais; P McBrearty, M Murphy, M O’Reilly.
L McLoone for Kavanagh (12), C Toye for McLoone (HT), R Kavanagh for McGlynn (53), M McHugh for McElhinney (59), C McFadden for McBrearty (69)
C Snow; M Jones, C Cullen, M O’Brien; D McCusker, J McMahon, B Mulrone; E Donnelly, A Breen; P McCusker, R Jones, R O’Callaghan; R Corrigan, S Quigley, T Corrigan.
D Kelly for Cullen (BC, 47), N Cassidy for R Corrigan (47), R Lyons for Breen (59), C Jones for McMahon (59), D Teague for P McCusker (65), C Flaherty for O’Brien (70)
Maurice Deegan (Laois)