McGee nets late winner
Donegal 2-11 Mayo 0-16
SMASH and grab hero Eamonn McGee revealed the secret behind Donegal's late, late winner that broke Mayo hearts at Castlebar yesterday.
The shame of the manner of defeat to Monaghan in last year's Championship brought a call from team manager Brian McIver for a never-say-die attitude this year and already it has paid off.
Nobody in the Donegal camp is shouting the odds. They know it's early in the year but McIver's men now have a solid foundation from which to build on.
"Last year against Monaghan we threw the towel in with 20 minutes to go and the one thing that Brian asked of us for this year was to keep going and never give up in matches," said McGee.
The 23-year-old, who plays soccer for Gweedore Celtic as a striker, brought all his instincts for goal to play as he fired the ball home for a sensational result. A centre-back, storming forward as Donegal mounted a last, desperate assault on the Mayo rearguard, McGee truly was the unlikely hero.
Mayo led by two points as the game moved into the 73rd minute and beyond -- and yet a cool-headed passing movement ended with Donegal left-half back Frank McGlynn passing to McGee about 21 metres out.
Decision time for McGee. "I got the ball and I saw the space beside the far post and I said to myself 'I'll try it. There's nothing to lose.'"
"It was probably more luck than anything else, but hopefully there'll be more goals to come," he said.
Modesty aside, the fact that McGee and most of the Donegal team were swarming forward when all seemed lost underlined the resilience growing in this side.
They had taken a fair old pasting from Mayo for most of the match, as John O'Mahony's men strove to learn from last year's Division 1A and League final defeat to the Donegal men.
The Mayo boss felt his team had started slowly in each of those games, and wanted a lively opening this time.
He got that and more, as his tactic of playing corner forwards Conor Mortimer and Andy Moran as a two-man full-forward line paid dividends.
Mortimer was on fire for most of the first half, and contributed six points to the cause over the course of the match.
Big Donegal corner forward Colm McFadden did his best to match Mortimer's early form by scoring all five points for Donegal to leave the scores at 0-10 to 0-5 after 23 minutes.
Then McFadden saw his well-struck 24th minute penalty shot superbly saved by Mayo League debutant, Shane Nallen.
For all their positive play Mayo only ended the first half 0-11 to 0-7 in front.
Kevin Higgins got an early second-half point before Donegal finally opened up the Mayo defence with a Ryan Bradley goal that left the score 0-12 to 1-7 on the 40 minute mark.
The next 25 minutes were hectic as both sides crowded the middle of the field area seeking to gain dominance, but Mayo still had the edge, playing good passing football and just keeping the few points clear of their opponents.
Just six minutes of normal time were left to play when Donegal conceded a free. A small moment, but significant.
Mortimer, so accurate all day, sent it wide, and the score stayed at 0-15 to 1-9, just three points still between the sides.
The next score was important, and Donegal's McFadden got it -- a point from a free.
Tom Parsons, who had replaced Seamus O'Shea in midfield, scored a Mayo point to restore Mayo's three-point lead, 0-16 to 1-11.
There had been a few injuries and referee Michael Duffy from Sligo signalled three minutes of injury time.
Donegal, by sheer force of will, upped the pressure. Mayo lost half-back Chris Barrett on 72 minutes, sent off for a second yellow card. Was his loss significant?
All we know is that the game was just past 73 minutes and heading into 74 when McGee's golden goal gave Donegal a win when they would have been delighted with a draw.
Mayo manager John O'Mahony summed up: "We're gutted to be honest.
"If we had hung on and won we'd be reflecting on a lot of positives and a lot of good play and 16 points but now I suppose the final tally always dictates the perception you have on a game and that's disappointing."
Scorers -- Mayo: C Mortimer 0-6 (3f), A Dillon 0-3, J Gill, K Higgins, 0-2 each, A Moran, A O'Malley, T Parsons 0-1 each. Donegal: C McFadden 0-7 (2f), R Bradley 1-2, (0-1f), E McGee 1-0, D Walsh, K Rafferty 0-1 each.
Mayo -- S Nallen; T Cunniffe, BJ Padden, L O'Malley; C Barrett, T Howley, K Higgins; S O'Shea, P Gardiner; J Gill, A Dillon, M Mullins; C Mortimer, A O'Malley, A Moran. Subs: D Heaney for Cunniffe (19); T Parsons for O'Shea (35); A Kilcoyne for O'Malley (ht).
Donegal -- M Boyle; K Lacey, N McGee, P McDaid; K Cassidy, E McGee, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, K Rafferty; C Toye, D Walsh, B Roper; C McFadden, R Bradley, K McMenamin. Subs: M McElhinney for McMenamin (33), B Monaghan for McDaid (44), K Doherty for Monaghan (47), L McLoone for Toye (69).
Ref: M Duffy (Sligo).