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Mayo chase elusive win in Donegal


FROM THE ARCHIVES Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor tackles Donegal’s Mark McHugh during the 2013 National League match between the counties in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile

Mike Finnerty

EVERYONE knows that Donegal are hard to beat in Ballybofey.
But sometimes you have to see it in black and white to drive the message home.
For exactly 12 years — from March 13, 2010 to March 13, 2022 — the Tir Chonaill men were unbeaten at MacCumhaill Park in National League and championship football.
For 12 years various incarnations of Donegal teams made home advantage there count.
Then Monaghan came along 12 months ago and delivered a match-winning performance there to leave with a five-points victory.
Donegal’s long unbeaten record in Ballybofey had finally been ended.
However, the fact that Kerry were turned over there in the first round of this season’s National League shows that Donegal are keen to restore MacCumhaill Park’s reputation as a fortress again quickly.
That is the challenge facing Mayo next Sunday afternoon as they try to record the victory they need to edge them a step closer to a second League Final appearance in a row.
And given how well they have been going — unbeaten in five matches and sitting on top of the Division 1 table — it’s easy to see why they have been installed as hot favourites to inflict a rare defeat on Donegal in their own backyard.
The homeside’s recent form is also a factor in their status as outsiders next Sunday.
Under new management, Donegal have lost three of their first five league matches in the post-Michael Murphy era.
They have also only scored one goal in almost seven hours of football.
The aforementioned opening day ‘against the head’ victory over All-Ireland champions Kerry was the dream start to their campaign, especially with newly-appointed captain, Patrick McBrearty, landing the brilliant winning score.
However, things have gone downhill since with McBrearty now sidelined through injury and away defeats to Tyrone, Monaghan and Armagh severely denting Donegal confidence.
However, a hard-earned point from a draw with Galway in Letterkenny last month was a reminder than they are a different animal when they can rally the troops on home ground.
Speaking after the most recent defeat to Armagh, manager Paddy Carr summed up their current predicament.
“The lads are not one bit happy with themselves, we know we have to kick on,” he admitted.
“Our backs are to the wall,” he added.
“We have to dust ourselves off and keep going to keep Donegal proud.”
Mayo stepped up their preparations for next weekend’s game with a challenge match against Fermanagh last Sunday morning, and it will be interesting to see if Kevin McStay decides to stick or twist when it comes to his team selection.
A number of players who started against Roscommon, including Paddy Durcan, Cillian O’Connor and Tommy Conroy will be hoping to keep their places in the first XV although the likes of Enda Hession, Aidan O’Shea and Ryan O’Donoghue will all be pushing for recalls.
Regardless, McStay and company have plenty of options and the momentum is with them.
Mayo have drawn away to Donegal four times in the National League in the last 40 years, including on their last two visits to Ballybofey in 2018 and 2020.
So a rare victory on Donegal soil next Sunday is long overdue.


NFL Division 1
Donegal v Mayo
Sunday, March 19
Ballybofey at 3.45pm

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