DONCASTER failed to book their place in the 2012 Championship One final at the first time of asking as they tasted defeat for the first time at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Barrow, who finished runners-up to the Dons in the league, held out to claim a nail-biting 22-20 win in their qualifying semi-final play-off.
Barrow’s win secured their place in the final at Warrington on September 30 whilst the Dons have a second chance to join them in the final next weekend as a reward for finishing in the top two.
The Dons suffered a blow directly from the kick-off when play-maker Paul Cooke picked up a kneecap injury in the first tackle.
The former Super League star managed to continue for nearly 30 minutes - during which time he was a virtual passenger - in the hope that he would be able to run it off, before admitting defeat.
The Dons got off to a flying start, hooker Kyle Kesik forcing his way over from close range after just 90 seconds.,
New club-record try scorer Lee Waterman added the extras to make it 6-0.
The Dons suffered a setback on 20 minutes when Kesik was sin-binned for ten minutes.
The Cumbrians cashed in on their extra man, centre Aaron Low scoring out wide.
Ballard tagged on the touchline conversion to level the scores at 6-6 after 21 minutes.
The Cumbrians were calling the shots but loose-forward Carl Hughes lifted Doncaster’s spirits six minutes later. Fed by Fawcett from a tap penalty in the Barrow 20, Hughes weaved his way over for a try goaled by Waterman to make it 12-6.
Barrow hit back, Low breaking winger Dean Colton’s tackle and racing in for his second try, Ballard’s conversion tied the scores at 12-12.
The Cumbrians got their noses in front for the first time two minutes before the break - centre Chris Larkin getting the better of opposite number Cowling to score from close range in the corner.
Centre Chris Spurr made a try-saving tackle ten metres out on Barrow scrum-half Liam Campbell after Waterman had been wrong-footed by a kick.
There was another let-off for the Dons two minutes later when big prop Ruairi McGoff was held on his back over the line.
But their relief was short-lived and James Dandy drove over from close range for a 46th minute converted try.
Trailing 22-12 the Dons realistically had to score next and they did just that on 49 minutes, second-rower Lucas Walshaw touching down out wide from Kesik’s awkwardly bouncing kick to the corner.
Waterman failed to add the extra leaving his side six points adrift.
The battling Dons made further inroads into Barrow’s lead on 58 minutes - winger Stuart Sanderson collecting Fawcett’s kick to the corner.
Waterman’s touchline conversion, which would have levelled the scores, fell well short.
Dons elected to run a kickable penalty a decision they ultimately lived to regret despite doing everything but score in a dramatic last quarter during which they finished much the stronger team.
n Dons: Waterman, Colton, Spurr, Cowling, Sanderson, Cooke, Fawcett, Castle, Kesik, Spiers, Kelly, Walshaw. Hughes. Subs: Emmett, Cunningham, Powley, Robinson
n Barrow: Ballard, Backhouse, Larkin, Low, Nixon, Kaighan, Campbell, Duffy, Finch, McGoff, Harrison, Gordon, Toal. Subs: Dandy, Ostler, Butler, Dawson.
n Referee: M Thomason.