Paddy McBearty starred with eight points as Donegal swept past Derry and into the Ulster SFC semi-finals with a 1-16 to 0-16 win at Celtic Park.
Declan Bonner’s men led from start to finish on an afternoon that saw them take another step in their progression to a more attacking style of play.
The men from Tir Chonail looked adventurous and clinical going forward, without totally abandoning the defensive principles which have defined them in recent years.
Now they go forward to a semi-final clash with Down, and another performance of this quality should be enough to get them back to the provincial decider.
Leo McLoone and Cian Mulligan struck early and late with the goals that downed a brave Oak Leaf side that was always chasing the game, but lacked a cutting edge up front, and depended too heavily on Emmet Bradley and Mark Lynch for scores.
In front of a crowd of 9,356, Donegal were quickly into their stride, with Leo McLoone and Michael Murphy slotting over early points as they got to the pace in double quick time.
McLoone and Hugh McFadden established a foothold in midfield, keeping their side on the front foot as the home side was forced back in numbers.
Jamie Brennan and McLoone, with a fine individual effort, had Declan Bonner’s side four to the good by the time Mark Lynch got Derry off the mark with an 11thminute free.
But seconds later, Murphy, heavily involved in all his side’s offensive efforts, linked with Ryan McHugh to send marauding midfielder McFadden in for a goal.
It was a serious setback for an Oak Leaf side still struggling to settle, but they got some momentum going, pulling back scores through Lynch and Emmet Bradley.
But the gulf between teams who had played two divisions apart in league football this year was evident as Frank McGlynn and McHugh, along with Caolan Ward, tested the home side with their runs from deep.
McBrearty knocked over a couple of points as they restored the two points advantage, but Derry, with Sean Leo McGoldrick probing along the left flank, and Enda Lynn using his pace along the right, got width into their game and exposed weaknesses and uncertainty in the Donegal defence.
Emmet Bradley thumped over three points on the spin, including a brilliant free from close to the sideline and a splendid effort from play to get them to within reach.
But they couldn’t sustain the momentum, and Donegal reeled off three late on, two of them from McBrearty, to lead by 1-10 to 0-7 at the break.
Bradley added a couple more to his tally, but Shaun Patton’s long, accurate kick-outs were highly effective in setting Donegal back on the attack.
The loss of full-back Brendan Rogers was a further setback for a Derry side struggling to contain an attack that had been fortified by substitutes Cian Mulligan and Ciaran McGinley, as well as Odhran MacNiallais.
McBrearty sent a couple of magnificent scores sailing between the posts, while Murphy steered over a a’45, and McLoone hit his third of the afternoon.
And in the 64th minute Daire O Baoill slipped a pass to Mulligan, who gave goalkeeper Ben McKinless no chance with a rocket that opened up an eight points lead.
Derry were now playing for pride, and Bradley saw an effort for goal come back off a post, while James Kielt, Niall Toner and Lynch all added 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 (0-08, 5f), P Coney; E Lynn, S McGuigan, M Lynch (0-05, 4f).
Subs: L McGoldrick for SL McGoldrick (h-t), J Doherty for Bateson (h-t), C McWilliams for Rogers (51), N Toner (0-01) for McGuigan (54), J Kielt (0-02) 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 (0-03); C Thompson, M Langan, R McHugh (0-02); P McBrearty (0-08, 3f), M Murphy (0-02, 1 ’45), J Brennan (0-01).
Subs: S McMenamin for McGee (3), O MacNiallais for Langan (h-t), C Mulligan (1-00) for P Brennan (43), C McGinley for Thompson (49), D O Baoill for McGrath (59), M McHugh for McGlynn (65)
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).