Mayo try to draw comfort as victory slips away again
AFTER a league campaign that started promisingly away to Kerry, plumbed the depths against Dublin, and restored pride down in Cork, it was little wonder then that we were left living on our nerves again on Sunday.
Mayo haven’t made life easy for themselves all that often in recent months and so it was again here, a Donegal equaliser almost four minutes into injury-time denying them a place in the semi-finals for the fifth time in six seasons.
Having worked so hard to get ahead, Mayo seemed to have done the hard part. However, with both Donal Vaughan and Diarmuid O’Connor being dismissed for black card offences in the dying minutes, the game became fast, loose and very unpredictable.
Crucially, amidst all the to-ing and fro-ing, Donegal stuck to their tried-and-tested game-plan, working the ball patiently to one of their designated marksmen, in this case one Stephen Griffin.
The substitute duly did the rest, arcing over a superb score from a tight angle near the right corner to earn Donegal the point they needed to leapfrog Mayo in the final standings.
The Westerners were utterly dejected at the final whistle as the realization that for all their disciplined and organised defending and trojan effort, twelve wides and yet another lapse in concentration had cost them dearly.
Mayo substitute Patrick Durcan also spurned a chance to push his side two points clear in the closing stages, and Donegal made their hosts pay for such profligacy.
The fact that the game ended in a welter of excitement was in keeping with the rest of a breathless, frantic match that seldom paused for breath and bristled with intent from gun to tape.
Referee David Coldrick was the busiest man in the stadium (and the most unpopular too judging by the boos from some of the home supporters in the crowd of 12,304 at the end).
He showed eleven cards in total: seven yellow, three black, and a red, the latter coming after Mayo’s Donal Vaughan picked up an early yellow card, allied to a late black one.
This was the first time the sides had met since then All-Ireland champions Donegal were whipped by Mayo by sixteen points in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final.
There was an edge to the match throughout, and neither side was prepared to let the other out of their sight.
The scene was set for a grandstand finish by half-time as wind-assisted Donegal went in leading by a point, 1-5 to 0-7.
Mayo midfielder Barry Moran dominated the skies all afternoon, and landed three fine points for good measure.
His early groundwork laid the platform for the locals to lead by 0-4 to 0-2 at the end of the first quarter.
Then a sweeping Donegal move ended with Paddy McBrearty cracking a shot past Kenneth O’Malley, and two quickfire points from Odhrain MacNiallais saw the visitors surge 1-5 to 0-4 ahead.
Mayo’s response was impressive, Moran’s fetching and their running game yielding three points without reply as Donal Vaughan and Aidan O’Shea both hit the target.
The second half followed a similar pattern as Barry Moran lofted over the equaliser on 40 minutes before Diarmuid O’Connor potted a beauty to edge Mayo in front.
The homeside were still ahead at the end of the third quarter, 0-11 to 1-6, but the fun was only starting.
McBrearty had a second goal disallowed after the referee adjudged him to have pushed Keith Higgins in the back (a harsh call) but Donegal’s talisman did manage to lose his marker twice to pop over scores in the 57th and 58th minutes that tied the game up for the fourth time.
The tension was palpable at that stage but when Kevin McLoughlin swung over a free on 67 minutes (after an earlier miss), it looked as though Mayo had done enough.
Instead, amidst all the late scuffles and drama, Donegal’s Stephen Griffin held his nerve to nail the decisive score.
Mayo now have nine weeks to move onwards and upwards.
K O’Malley; B Harrison, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, D Vaughan (0-1); B Moran (0-3), S O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-3, 1f), A O’Shea (0-1), J Doherty (0-2, 2fs); M Ronaldson, D Kirby, D O’Connor (0-1).
Subs used: M Conroy (0-1) for Ronaldson (HT); S Coen for Harrison (45); A Moran for Kirby (54); P Durcan for Boyle (65); N Douglas for McLoughlin (69); M Hall for O’Connor (black card, 73).
M Boyle; E Doherty, N McGee, E McGee; P McGrath, K Lacey, F McGlynn; M McElhinney (0-1), C Toye; M Reilly, O McNiallais (0-3), R McHugh; P McBrearty (1-3, 1f), H McFadden, C McFadden (0-1).
Subs used: C McGinley for Toye (42); A Thompson for Doherty (42); M McHugh for H McFadden (48, black card); S Griffin (0-1) for McGinley (58).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)