Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal) 4-11 Crossmaglen (Armagh) 0-16
A first-half hat-trick from Daire O Baoill propelled Donegal champions Gaoth Dobhair into the Ulster Club SFC final with a 4-11 to 0-16 win over Crossmaglen at Healy Park.
The men from the north-west produced a blistering display to crush the resurgent Rangers and set up a meeting with Scotstown in the decider.
With Odhran MacNiallais in scintillating form, and his midfield partner O Baoill setting the game alight with his goal-scoring exploits, Gweedore were in no way flattered by their seven points winning margin as they qualified for a first ever provincial final.
O Baoill fired in three goals, one of them from a penalty, to send Gweedore in with a 3-5 to 0-9 interval lead.
Oisin O’Neill curled over a couple of gems early on to get the Rangers off to a bright start, and they looked comfortable as Johnny Hanratty gave them a ball-winning edge around the middle and Rian O’Neill threatened every time he got on the ball.
Hanratty’s fine score made it 0-3 to 0-1 after five minutes, with the Donegal men still searching for that spark that would ignite their challenge.
But they exploded into action in the ninth minute when Odhran MacNiallais sent O Baoill flying off his shoulder to fire in the first of his three first half goals.
Four minutes later, the midfielder burned three defenders with his searing pace as he sprinted through the middle to plant the ball in the bottom corner of the net again, and the Donegal men were five ahead.
A stunned Crossmaglen side was pinned back as the men from the Gaeltacht stepped up the press, with the imperious MacNiallais stroking over a couple of wonderful scores.
Cross were living off scraps, Hanratty ending a 13 minute scoreless spell, but that represented merely a temporary reprieve, for Gaoth Dobhair were awarded a penalty for Garvin Carragher’s foul on Cian Mulligan, and O Baoill stepped up to slot the kick home.
Remarkably, they now they led by nine, a situation they could not have envisaged, but a late flourish saw Cross kick four points, three of them from Rian O’Neill, to trim the deficit.
Gaoth Dobhair led by 3-5 to 0-9 at the break, and the outlook became even bleaker for Crossmaglen when they were reduced to three men just two minutes after the second half, Hanratty booked for a second time just moments after bringing a terrific save from goalkeeper Christopher Sweeney.
O’Neill and Tony Kernan pulled back scores, but all that was undone as the Donegal men struck for a third goal, full forward Cassidy reacting fastest to seize the rebound from a MacNiallais shot as it came back off a post, smashing his shot to the top corner of the net.
Now they led by eight, and the crisis had deepened for a Cross side facing more questions than they could find answers for.
Oisin O’Neill battled around the middle, but they could find no way to curb the brilliance of the on-song MacNiallais, who landed another classy effort between the posts.
Gaoth Dobhair were faster to possession and sharper in the tackle, refusing to allow their opponents time on the ball, and while Rian O’Neill and Kyle Carragher slotted over scores, they were unable to handle the power of MacNiallais, Eamonn McGee, and the pace of the O Baoill brothers, Daire and Naoise.
Shane Ferry and skipper Niall Friel nailed scores to keep the margin comfortable, and goalkeeper Sweeney remained alert to pull off a brilliant save from David McKenna late on.
Cross finished with 13 men, top-scorer Rian O’Neill dismissed on a straight red card in stoppage time.
Gaoth Dobhair: C Sweeney; G McFadden, N McGee, C McFadden; N Friel (0-01), E McGee, O McFadden-Ferry; D O Baoill (3-00, 1 pen), O MacNiallais (0-04, 1f); C Mulligan (0-01), N O Baoill, D McBride; E Collum (0-02, 1f), K Cassidy (1-02), M Carroll.
Subs: Peter Hughes for McBride (42), S Carroll for Collum (46), S O Baoill for McFadden-Ferry (51), S Ferry (0-01) for M Carroll (57)
Crossmaglen: J McEvoy; R Kelly, A Farrelly, G Carragher; A Kernan, J Morgan, P Hughes; S Morris, O O’Neill (0-03, 1f); J McKeever, R O’Neill (0-08, 5f), J Hanratty (0-02); C Cumiskey, T Kernan (0-02, 1f), K Carragher (0-01).
Subs: A Rushe for G Carragher (27), D McKenna for Cumiskey (h-t), P Stuttard for Hughes (47), C McConville for T Kernan (47), M Boyce for K Carragher (57)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).