Wasteful Mayo pay the price as Griffin delivers late twist
In the current climate it is best to deliver a quality control report first.
Competitive, edgy, sometimes cynical (one red, two black, 10 yellow cards), defensive and littered with mistakes and turnovers. Your average League fixture perhaps.
But it wasn't a predominantly static affair. There was enough forward momentum and injections of pace in it to keep this one well clear of intensive care.
For the magnificence of Barry Moran's fielding and the opportunism of Patrick McBrearty and Odhran MacNiallais on the other side, we're tempted to give it a clean bill of health.
It wheezed and it coughed but it was presentable. If you were looking for areas of perfection they were scarce but if it was a contest you came for then, by and large, you got it.
Stephen Griffin's point three minutes into injury-time gave Donegal their first Division 1 point on the road since 2009 when they beat Westmeath.
Since then they have had three campaigns in the top flight and didn't win an away match.
More importantly Griffin's point helped Donegal leapfrog Mayo into the last remaining semi-final spot on score difference.
They both finished on seven points but their win over Tyrone last week, allied to Mayo's heavy home loss to Dublin, gave Donegal a markedly superior points-difference advantage. Darren McCurry's equaliser in Omagh also played its part.
Good news for Donegal? You would think so. Rory Gallagher said so but there wasn't real conviction in his words. With an Ulster Championship date with Tyrone in six weeks' time their collective minds will quickly re-focus elsewhere.
"We have a game now. We have to embrace that," he said. "The draw has given us the game so we will take on that challenge.
"Croke Park is the one good thing in qualifying. It's good exposure for young fellas. We might take a look at a few more of them next week."
Championship preparations, it seems, were ramped up during the week with a couple of "tough" sessions, according to Gallagher and as half-time approached, he noted afterwards how they looked out on their feet, but with no threat of relegation they still pressed on in search of a result.
"That tiredness was still in the legs so it was very pleasing to keep driving at them. We didn't accept being beaten," he acknowledged.
Mayo will find it difficult to accept that they only drew, given the opportunities they passed up, particularly in the second half.
They had nine wides but it was a shot that dropped painfully short that will irk them most: a swift counter-attack driven by Kevin Keane ended with substitute Patrick Durcan dropping the ball tamely into Michael Boyle's hands. Mayo were 0-12 to 1-8 ahead and a further point would surely have pushed it beyond Donegal.
By that stage Mayo were down to 14 men courtesy of Donie Vaughan's red card for a yellow and black combination.
Diarmuid O'Connor should surely have followed for his challenge on Paddy McGrath but referee David Coldrick opted for yellow instead.
If the idea was to break Donegal's momentum it didn't and when Eamonn McGee transferred to Griffin the substitute, only on the field 15 minutes, did the needful.
It was Griffin's first game in almost 27 months and having spent the winter touring Australia it was quite a re-introduction for him.
Donegal will be pleased that they achieved something on the road without their suspended captain Michael Murphy and, just as important in the context of this game, Neil Gallagher, who had been withdrawn with a slight hamstring injury picked up against Tyrone.
With Mayo forcing Boyle to go long with many of his kick-outs Moran revelled in winning so much clean possession in Gallagher's absence, at least four in the second half alone ending up in his grasp.
In tandem with Seamus O'Shea, a late call-up for Tom Parsons, they dominated midfield, with O'Shea consistently breaking the tackle and Moran popping up to score three points and set up at least one more.
Donegal tried a few different combinations but without the physical presence of Gallagher and Murphy they struggled.
Without any real platform they did well to hang in. Karl Lacey read the game well, while Martin McElhinney, Frank McGlynn and MacNiallais punched the most telling holes in Mayo's cover.
One of the successes of Gallagher's brief reign as Donegal manager has been the unlocking of potential in McBrearty. The forward is still only 21 but he hasn't had a consistent a run with Donegal and his pace and control really bothered Mayo, who delegated Keith Higgins to track him.
McBrearty's strike for the only goal on 20 minutes was powerful, and the build-up was as crisp as you would like it, passing through five players off Boyle's kick-out, with McGlynn making a double intervention to link with Martin O'Reilly before teeing up McBrearty.
With MacNiallais kicking a third point, Donegal stretched four points clear, 1-5 to 0-4, by the 23rd minute, but Mayo checked themselves at the right time and raised the tempo of their own game, forcing turnovers with the pressure game they worked so hard at under James Horan.
They went for size inside with Aidan O'Shea and Danny Kirby alternating, but it was the fluidity of their game that got them back into it, one Moran point on 26 minutes to make it 1-5 to 0-5 involving six hand-passes in the approach.
By half-time, Mayo had placed themselves in a better position, 1-5 to 0-7 in arrears with slight wind advantage to come. But they never capitalised on any of the pointers in their favour.
Mickey Conroy came off the bench and score a fine point off the outside of the right boot on 54 minutes to restore a one-point lead, 0-10 to 1-6, but Mayo undid some of the good work with three further wides, shot selection rather than accuracy letting them down.
They went two clear through Kevin McLoughlin off another Moran kick-out claim on 55 minutes but McBrearty fisted and kicked points in succession (the second after O'Connor looked like he had been fouled at the other end) to level it, 0-11 to 1-8.
McLoughlin subsequently missed a 13-metre free, albeit from a difficult angle but made amends when Seamus O'Shea was fouled to put Mayo back in front again.
"Our shooting is something we need to work on," acknowledged Mayo join-manager Pat Holmes.
"We had opportunities to win the game. Over the course of 70 minutes you can't afford to have so many wides but I think there were a lot of positives about the performances."
Mayo can point to the absence of Cillian O'Connor and the withdrawal of Ger Cafferkey (he got injured in the warm-up) and Alan Dillon. But this was a game they shouldn't have left behind.
Man of the match: Barry Moran (Mayo)
Scorers - Mayo: B Moran, K McLoughlin (1f) 0-3 each, J Doherty 0-2 (2fs), D Vaughan, M Conroy, A O'Shea, D O'Connor 0-1 each.
Donegal: P McBrearty 1-3 (0-1f), O MacNiallais 0-3, M McElhinney, C McFadden, S Griffin 0-1 each.
Mayo - K O'Malley 7; B Harrison 6, K Higgins 7, K Keane 7; L Keegan 6, D Vaughan 8, C Boyle 6; B Moran 9, S O'Shea 8; D O'Connor 6, K McLoughlin 8, J Doherty 6; A O'Shea 7, D Kirby 5, M Ronaldson 5 Subs: M Conroy 6 for Ronaldson (ht), S Coen 6 for Harrison (45), A Moran 6 for Kirby (54), P Durcan for Boyle (65), N Douglas for McLoughlin (69), M Hall for O'Connor BC (73).
Donegal - M Boyle 7; P McGrath 7, N McGee 7, E McGee 7; E Doherty 6, K Lacey 8, R McHugh 6; H McFadden 7, C Toye 6; F McGlynn 7, M McElhinney 7, O MacNiallais 7; C McFadden 5, P McBrearty 8, M O'Reilly 6. Subs: C McGinley 4 for Toye (42), A Thompson 6 for Doherty (42), M McHugh 6 for H McFadden BC (48), S Griffin 6 for McGinley (58),
Ref - D Coldrick (Meath)