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Deja vu for Bonner as Donegal cede parity at the death

Mayo 0-11 Donegal 0-11

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Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly scores a point, from a free kick, for the last score of the drawn Division 1 game between Mayo and Donegal. Photo by: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly scores a point, from a free kick, for the last score of the drawn Division 1 game between Mayo and Donegal. Photo by: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Rob Hennelly

Rob Hennelly

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Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly scores a point, from a free kick, for the last score of the drawn Division 1 game between Mayo and Donegal. Photo by: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Ever feel you’ve been here before? Mayo playing with the first half handbrake on. Donegal bursting with vitality for the opening three-quarters only to shrivel in belief and street smarts down the home straight.

All culminating in another grandstand Mayo comeback crowned by a Rob Hennelly equaliser in the death throes of injury-time.

Yesterday was a Groundhog version of Mayo in the summer of 2021, transported to Sligo in deepest winter.

It was also the latest case for the prosecution against Donegal’s propensity for surrendering leads when the action turns hot and heavy.

They fluffed a 52nd-minute penalty that would have put them six up, prompting inevitable post-mortems as to why Paddy McBrearty – and not Michael Murphy – had taken responsibility for that fateful kick.

That watershed moment had left Mayo with 14 men, skipper Stephen Coen walking for a second yellow for pulling back Murphy’s shorts after the Donegal captain had scrambled to win a route-one delivery into the goalmouth. But Hennelly second-guessed McBrearty’s intentions, diving low to his left.

Still, that save appeared less of a turning point when Murphy pinged the resultant ’45 for his fourth point of a prodigious shift, and even more so after Michael Langan landed his fourth from play, this one a booming beauty from distance into the wind.

With 56 minutes on the clock, Mayo trailed by five. With scores at a premium, there appeared no way back. And still, somehow, they survived.

As the weather turned even wilder, so too did the manic nature of Mayo’s tackling. Cavan referee Noel Mooney developed writer’s cramp as the card count soared: our final tally made it six yellows and one red for Mayo, five yellows and one black for Donegal, the latter for Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí levelling up the numbers after 69 minutes.

Those five unanswered Mayo points came from a typically busy Ryan O’Donoghue (who may well have been attempting to lob the roaming Shaun Patton); Paddy Durcan (his second of an influential second half); comeback kid Jason Doherty (his third of the half, blazing over when a goal seemingly beckoned); O’Donoghue again from a long-range free (followed by a fist-pump to the stand even as Donegal protested that his shot had tailed wide); and then finally Hennelly.

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His opposite number, Patton, had been penalised for apparent over-holding after being swarmed by green-and-red jerseys near the left touchline. It was no gimme, time was almost up but Hennelly – just as he did against Dublin at the end of normal-time last August – bisected the posts to secure parity.

No wonder Declan Bonner cut a somewhat frustrated figure afterwards, more glass-half-empty than half-full, whereas James Horan’s post-match reflections were more ebullient.

“We played really good football for long periods of that game, we had control and we led the whole way through until the last minute of the match, so ultimately we are disappointed we lost a point but we will take the point and move on,” said Bonner.

Horan, for his part, felt his team had been “tentative” in the first half and struggled to cope with Donegal’s extra numbers coming from deep. “We didn’t know maybe when to pick them up or where to pick them up, so we were sort of in no man’s land for a bit,” the Mayo boss surmised.

This was reflected in the first half stats: Donegal led by 0-7 to 0-3 and it would have been more but for Hennelly’s two saves to deny Odhrán McFadden Ferry at point blank range and Langan’s goalbound flick.

Mayo had been reduced to a brace of O’Donoghue frees before Eoghan McLaughlin curled over a sublime score on the run from the left wing following a move ignited by Brendan Harrison’s burst out of defence.

This was Harrison’s first start after a lengthy absence (he featured off the bench against Dublin last summer) but Doherty has been missing even longer. The 32-year-old last played for Mayo in the 2019 Super 8s, ironically against Donegal; two cruciate operations later, he came good in the second half with an invaluable 0-3, even if two of those might – on another day – have yielded 2-0.

“Look it, Jason Doc and Brendan Harrison are immense guys,” Horan enthused. “Doc had the pitching wedge out instead of the three-iron. If he hit a few of those lower, he had a few great goal chances but his work and his application inspires people around him, it genuinely does.”

Horan said management had “changed a few things around” at half-time but ultimately he saluted his players for the transformation, describing their tackle and turnover counts as “immense”.

League deadlocks between these rivals are nothing new: they also drew in 2018 and 2020, the former costing Donegal relegation, and each time they surrendered winning positions at the death.

So yesterday was another deflating bout of déjà vu for Bonner. He thought that O’Donoghue’s late free had gone wide and, as for that fateful penalty, the Donegal boss downplayed any suggestion that Murphy’s spot-kick miss against Tyrone last summer may have impacted the decision for McBrearty to take it.

“Michael has been about long enough now and I don't think that will affect him,” Bonner demurred. “He's an experienced campaigner. It's a decision that's left to the players on the pitch.”

SCORERS – Mayo: R O’Donoghue 0-4 (3f), J Doherty 0-3, P Durcan 0-2, E McLaughlin, R Hennelly (f) 0-1 each. Donegal: M Langan, M Murphy (1m, 1f, 1 ‘45’) 0-4 each, P McBrearty (f), C O’Donnell, R McHugh 0-1 each.

MAYO – R Hennelly 8; B Harrison 6, S Coen 5, P O’Hora 7; P Durcan 8, D McHugh 6, E McLaughlin 7; C O’Shea 6, C Loftus 6; F McDonagh 5, A Orme 5, D O’Connor 6; T Conroy 7, J Doherty 7, R O’Donoghue 7. Subs: A O’Shea 7 for Orme (ht), B Walsh 6 for McDonagh (ht), S Callinan 5 for McHugh (47), J Flynn 5 for Loftus (51), P Towey for C O’Shea (70).

DONEGAL – S Patton 7; EB Gallagher 7, C Ward 6, B McCole 6; O McFadden Ferry 7, P Brennan 6, T McClenaghan 6; C McGonagle 6, C Thompson (not on long enough); R McHugh 7, P Mogan 7, M Langan 9; P McBrearty 6, M Murphy 8, C O’Donnell 6. Subs: J McGee 6 for Thompson (inj 10), N O’Donnell for Murphy (temp 23-33), J Mac Ceallabhuí 5 for Ward (inj 51), N O’Donnell 6 for C O’Donnell (57), E O’Donnell 5 for McClenaghan (59), E Doherty for McFadden Ferry (63).

REF – N Mooney (Cavan)


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