POETRY IN MOTION Mayo’s Andy Moran gets his kick away over Donegal’s Neil McGee in Ballybofey last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile
“ALL’S well that ends middlin’,” one Mayo GAA wag opined after the final whistle.
Mayo will definitely take it that the end justifies the means as yet more late drama saw another chapter written in the journey that is following this football team.
Donegal were the better team here, but Mayo have often been the better team and lost down the years. Digging out a result from an under-par performance gave players, management and supporters a deep sense of satisfaction in Ballybofey on Sunday.
Kevin McLoughlin and Eoin O’Donoghue were the late heroes who landed points to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat, and preserve Mayo’s National League Division 1 status yet again.
As the game entered injury-time, Mayo’s goose looked cooked. They had only scored one point in the previous 22 minutes and Donegal were two to the good.
With few enough scorers on the field, Mayo were in serious trouble.
Step forward corner-back, Eoin O’Donoghue. Taking receipt of a pass from Kevin McLoughlin outside the ‘45, the Belmullet defender saw a chink of space as Donegal stood off and he powered through the gap to fire over with confidence.
Donegal were suddenly on the ropes. But when they were awarded a free-out on the restart they looked to have control back. Michael Murphy drove a long ball into Paddy McBrearty. For a second, a goal looked on, but one wrong turn from the sharpshooter lost that momentum. He then chose to shoot when a pass was the better option and his effort dropped short.
Mayo had the ball, and about a minute of the four allocated for injury-time to extend their stay in the top-flight to a 22nd season.
In the end they needed less than half that time. The ball was worked from David Clarke to Fergal Boland and through the hands of Michael Hall, Aidan O’Shea, Eoin O’Donoghue and Stephen Coen before Kevin McLoughlin took possession outside the ‘45.
With pure conviction, McLoughlin drove on to find space to get a shot off from 40 metres. It was off his weaker right foot and did not look a percentage shot. But the connection was true, the belief was whole, and the Knockmore man perfectly split the posts.
It was some finish to what looked for long stages like it would be a disappointing day for Mayo.
Yet, after the terrible display against Tyrone, Mayo started brilliantly.
Led by three points from Andy Moran, they opened up a 0-5 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes and had three goal chances in that spell too. More like it, we thought.
But Mayo’s inability to steer an even course proved their undoing once again.
Donegal upped the ante and Stephen Rochford’s team were far too passive at the back.
The hosts reeled off seven unanswered points in a row to take control and they were 0-9 to 0-6 up at the break.
Eoghan Bán Gallagher was raiding from deep while late addition, Paddy McBrearty, was showing his class in the full-forward line.
However, playing into the wind in the second half, they did not have the same shooting range and only kicked four points after half-time.
And with only the excellent Conor Loftus finding the mark for Mayo with five second half points (four frees), those four points from Donegal looked to be enough.
But Eoin O’Donoghue and Kevin McLoughlin had other ideas.
D Clarke; E O’Donoghue (0-1), C Crowe, P Durcan; C Boyle, S Coen, K McLoughlin (0-2); S O’Shea, T Parsons; D O’Connor, A O’Shea, D Drake; C Loftus (0-6, 5fs), J Doherty (0-1), A Moran (0-3).
Subs used: M Hall for Drake (62mins); F Boland for S O’Shea (65mins); B Moran for Parsons (68mins); A Freeman for Doherty (70mins).
S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, EB Gallagher (0-2); E Doherty, F McGlynn (0-1), P Brennan; L McLoone, M Murphy (0-2, 1f); H McFadden, C Thompson (0-1), O Mac Niallais (0-1); N O’Donnell, P McBrearty (0-4, 2fs), J Brennan (0-2).
Subs used: M McHugh for O’Donnell (46mins); C Morrison for McGrath (59mins); S McBrearty for Thompson (59mins); C Ward for McGee (61mins); C Mulligan for Brennan (67mins).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)