Fourteen-man Dublin squeezed past Donegal in a dour, defensive struggle at Croke Park to qualify for their first All-Ireland football final since 1995.

Both sides packed their defence, with Donegal adopting a particularly cautious approach, which looked as if it would pay off when they eased into a three points lead early in the second half.

A low-scoring encounter finally went Dublin’s way, strangely after they lost full forward Diarmuid Connolly to a straight red card on 57 minutes.

The Dubs managed just two points from play, but they just got over the line, and deservedly so, to set up a clash with Kerry in the decider.

The game was almost nine minutes old when Colm McFadden treated a heaving crowd of 81,436 to the first score, from a free.

But it was McFadden’s careless pass which gave Bernard Brogan the opportunity to go one-on-one with ‘keeper Paul Durcan, but the Dublin attacker sent his shot zipping wide at the far post.

The Dublin attackers were never allowed an inch of space by a Donegal defence which suffocated its opponents with strength of numbers and intense pressure on the man in possession.

Donegal also found it difficult to make progress against a packed Dublin defence, but when forced to shoot from distance, eased in front with a long range effort from Ryan Bradley.

That was in the 24th minute, and was only the game’s third score, a feature which had already drawn jeers from an increasingly frustrated attendance.

Bernard Brogan converted his second free to bring the sides level, but that was to be the Metropolitans’ lot in the first half.

And Donegal finished with a couple of excellent points from play, a long distance Kevin Cassidy special and a delightful McFadden slice.

It was 0-4 to 0-2 in favour of the Ulster champions at the interval, and they had a glorious goal chance immediately after the restart when McFadden broke clear, but he blazed his shot over the bar.

Goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton landed a Dublin free, his ninth score of the championship, but McFadden restored the Ulster champions’ three points advantage with another superb effort from play.

Defences were still very much on top, but the introduction of Kevin McManamon was a major plus for Dublin, his strong running exposing some weaknesses in a Donegal rearguard unit which had lost key man Karl Lacey through injury.

A Cluxton ’45 had just narrowed the gap to a point when Connolly was sent off for striking out at Marty Boyle, but that setback appeared to lift Pat Gilroy’s side.

They pushed on and scored the final three points of the game, McManamon bringing his side level, before Bryan Cullen and Brogan hammered home the final nails.

Dublin: S Cluxton (0-2, 1f, 1 ’45), C O’Sullivan, R O’Carroll, M Fitzsimons, J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan, D Bastick, MD Macauley, P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen (0-1), A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan (0-4, 4f).

Subs: P McMahon for O’Carroll, K McManamon (0-1) for Cahill, E O’Gara for McCarthy, E Fennell for Bastick, Ross McCarroll for Flyhbnn

Donegal: P Durcan, E McGee, N McGee, F McGlynn, A Thompson, K Lacey, K Cassidy (0-1), R Kavanagh, N Gallagher, M McHugh, D Walsh, R Bradley (0-1), C Toye, M Murphy, C McFadden (0-4, 2f).

Subs: M Hegarty for Toye, M Boyle for Lacey, M McElhinney for Hegarty, P McBrearty for Walsh

Referee: M Deegan (Laois).