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Ruthless Mayo crush champions


Mayo's Lee Keegan
ON THE BURST?Mayo’s Lee Keegan got on the score-sheet, but was denied a goal in the second half by Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan.?Pic: Sportsfile

Shock and awe

Mayo 4-17
Donegal 1-10

Mike Finnerty
Croke Park

PEOPLE that have been following the fortunes of Mayo football all their lives had never seen anything like it.
A stunning display of pace and power, an exhibition of football that blew the reigning All-Ireland champions out of the water, and a performance that has seen Mayo installed as the outright favourites to win the Sam Maguire Cup with two games still left to play.
This was almost as good as it gets for those of us with Mayo blood in our veins. Almost.
Nobody will know this more than James Horan and his players who are already preparing for the challenge of tackling Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final on August 25.
By knocking out the reigning All-Ireland champions for the third year in a row, Mayo have put themselves in a position to finish what they started when Horan took charge.
Last Sunday the team that he has built showed that their graph remains on an upward curve.
Consider these statistics if you will.
Thirteen different Mayo players scored, the team racked up 4-15 from play (including a record-breaking second successive hat-trick from Cillian O’Connor), and Mayo were twelve points up at the halfway mark.
Between the 20th minute and the 45th minute the Connacht champions outscored their shell-shocked opponents by 2-9 to no score. All but two points of that tally came from play.
It was as unprecedented as it was incredible.
It is also worth remembering that Donegal tagged on 1-4 in the last ten minutes to gloss the final scoreline, with pride the only thing left to play for at that stage.
They had been broken down and beaten before half-time.
From the very first whistle Mayo were rampant and ravenous all over the field.
Keith Higgins, who lined out at wing-forward, revelled in a roving role around the middle-third as Aidan O’Shea, who delivered his finest hour in a Mayo shirt, and his brother Seamus secured control of the midfield battleground.
Around them, Kevin McLoughlin and Alan Dillon tormented Donegal with their imagination and invention, while Cillian O’Connor, Alan Freeman and Andy Moran went to work inside.
The end result was a blur of movement and angled runs as the ball was switched constantly, space was created and exploited, and scores started to flow.
At the other end, Tom Cunniffe, Ger Cafferkey and Chris Barrett tied down Messrs McBrearty, Murphy and McFadden respectively. Between them, the Donegal strikers only managed 1-1 from play, and McFadden’s goal came in the 70th minute.
To underline Mayo’s defensive solidity these days, it was also the first goal they have conceded in four matches.
A good start was imperative for Mayo and was duly delivered when Cillian O’Connor and Alan Dillon gunned points inside the first two minutes.
The floodgates opened three minutes later when O’Connor robbed Eamon McGee of possession on the endline. Kevin McLoughlin weaved his way towards goal, and set up O’Connor for a clinical low finish to the Donegal net.
It was to be the beginning of the end for the champions.
Their initial response was positive as Michael Murphy and Mark McHugh kicked scores into Hill 16, but Mayo were in no mood to compromise.
Their training ground manouveres paid dividends again on 13 minutes when Keith Higgins, in an advanced role, picked out Donal Vaughan’s run in behind the Donegal cover. The centre-back rolled in goal number two and the die was cast.
In the 22 minutes that followed, Mayo produced some mesmerising passages of football. They passed and moved effortlessly, left tired and demoralised Donegal men trailing in their wake, and played like they owned the place.
They nailed seven points in-a-row before half-time from six different players, and jogged down the tunnel ahead by 2-10 to 0-4. The Mayo supporters in the crowd of 63,466 stood to applaud them off the field, hoping that there was more to come.
The team didn’t disappoint either, tacking on 2-7 over the course of a second half that ticked slowly towards its inevitable conclusion.
Cillian O’Connor claimed his hat-trick with goals in the 40th and 45th minutes to bury Donegal once and for all, and their fans were streaming towards the exits when the dust settled.
The last quarter was a formality, with only a red card for Eamon McGee after he stamped on Enda Varley and the dismissal of Aidan O’Shea in injury-time for a second booking, breaking the monotony of Mayo dominance.
We will find out soon where this Indian summer will end for Mayo, but on days like this it’s all about enjoying the journey.

R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, C Barrett (0-1); L Keegan (0-1), C Boyle (0-1), D Vaughan (1-0); A O’Shea, S O’Shea (0-1); K McLoughlin (0-1), A Dillon (0-2), K Higgins; C O’Connor (3-4, 2fs, ’45), A Freeman (0-2), A Moran (0-1).
Subs used: C Carolan for Cunniffe (26), R Feeney (0-1) for Dillon (46), E Varley (0-1) for Moran (49), D Coen for O’Connor (54), K Keane (0-1) for Boyle (57).

P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; Declan Walsh, A Thompson, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, R Kavanagh; M McHugh (0-2), R Bradley, R McHugh; C McFadden (1-0) M Murphy (0-6, 4fs, ’45), P McBrearty.
Subs used: K Lacey (0-1) for Thompson (24), M McElhinney for N McGee (h-t); David Walsh (0-1) for Bradley (h-t); L McLoone for Kavanagh (44), M Boyle for McGrath (60).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)