Mayo book place in All-Ireland semi-final as they hold nerve to see off Donegal
Mayo 1-14 Donegal 1-10
THIS Mayo team may never win an All-Ireland title but for their resolute stubbornness, indomitable spirit and ability to overcome incredible odds they deserve an honourable one.
Their army of fans will mobilise yet again for another trip to Croke Park next Saturday as they feature in their eighth All-Ireland semi-final in nine seasons. They will almost certainly face Dublin given that Tyrone are fielding a reserve team in Omagh against the All-Ireland champions.
Mayo will be the underdogs again as they seek their first championship win over Dublin since 2012. But the Connacht side are invariably at their best when the odds are stacked against them as they demonstrated in Castlebar by knocking Ulster champions Donegal out of the race for Sam in 2019.
A first-half goal from Cillian O'Connor was a key score as the home side led by six points at the break. After Michael Murphy converted a 41st-minute penalty, Donegal narrowed the gap to one point but Mayo replacements Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin kicked four points while the magnificent Paddy Durcan not alone held Ryan McHugh scoreless, but kicked three points from play to secure Mayo a place in the last four.
For Donegal, there is no way to sugar coat this loss. It was a crushing blow – the second time in successive seasons that they have failed to make it out of their Super 8 Group even though they won the Ulster championship with consummate ease.
There were two late changes in personnel in the Mayo team, the most significant of which featured the return of Paddy Durcan who had been sidelined since the Round 4 qualifier against Galway. He was handed responsibility for keeping tabs on Ryan McHugh. Veteran Keith Higgins also returned.
Neil McGee was unavailable and Eamonn Doherty took his place but he didn't last until the break.
Mayo had six survivors from the side that lost to Donegal in the 2012 All-Ireland final – while Donegal had four. But since then the Ulster side had a poor record against the Connacht side, winning only one of their seven clashes.
The home side had the advantage of the wind and Lee Keegan immediately went to mark Michael Murphy who didn't touch the ball until the fifth minute and then lost it.
By then Donegal were fortunate not to have conceded a goal courtesy of two uncharacteristic errors from Shaun Patton.
Firstly he was caught in possession on a foray out from goal. Donegal coughed up a free which Cillian O'Connor ballooned into the air. Darren Coen won the dropping ball and slotted it between the posts.
Patton's attempted short restart was intercepted by O'Connor who fed Coen but the goalkeeper redeemed himself, saving the full forward's effort.
The visitors had started the better with early points from Paddy McBrearty and Niall O'Donnell. Amazingly they failed to score from play for the rest of the half.
As the game settled Mayo looked far sharper and though they had problems winning Robert Hennelly long re-starts, they were able to win second phase possession.
Even though they dropped two balls short into Hennelly's arm and O'Connor missed a free, they deservingly took a narrow 3-2 lead with a Chris Barrett point in the 14th minute.
Less than ninety seconds later they lost Keith Higgins who was shown a black card after he pulled down McBrearty. By then Donegal had lost midfielder Jason McGee through injury.
Donegal were being repeatedly turned over in possession by the tigerish Mayo half back line but though they led by 0-5; 0-3 ten minutes before half time, Mayo's supermania was impacting seriously on their prospects as they kicked three wides on the spin from O'Connor (free), Durcan and Fionn McDonagh. James Horan reacted by introducing Andy Moran for Coen and the home side moved three clear after Durcan – who was making a more telling impact than McHugh – was fouled and O'Connor nailed the free.
The Ballintubber ace made a more profound impact six minutes before the break when he got inside Paddy McGrath and palmed the ball past a stranded Patton after an Aidan O'Shea shot had dropped short.
A subdued Michael Murphy pulled a point back from a free and moments earlier the visitors had a goal chance but Jamie Brennan lost possession under pressure as he was about to pull the trigger.
But it was Mayo who were the dominant side during the remainder of the half with James Carr getting his second point to give his side a richly deserved 1-7 to 0-4 lead at the break, even though they had kicked seven wides compared to four for the visitors.
Niall O'Donnell and the increasing influential Carr exchanged early second-half points and Donegal were thrown a lifetime six minutes into the second half when Lee Keegan was adjudged to have fouled Murphy as they battled for a dropping ball from Ciaran Thompson.
The Donegal captain, who celebrates his 30th birthday today, calmly drove the penalty to the net. The play then became very disjointed as Aidan O'Shea was flattened and the referee booked Hugh McFadden and Colm Boyle. There was a further delay after Jason Doherty was injured and had to be stretchered off.
His replacement, Kevin McLoughlin, made an immediate impact adding a fourth point but Donegal had a little purple patch as they penned Mayo in their half and kicked two consecutive points from play for the first time in the game via Daire O Baoill and McBrearty.
Shaun Patton brilliant saved from Andy Moran and from the turnover Murphy kicked a wonder point. Paddy Durcan stopped the rot with his third point from play and as the tension mounted both sides squandered chances.
Crucially, Mayo were struggling to win their own kick-outs but in open play the tenacious tackling of their defenders was a joy to behold. Paul Brennan was black carded with eight minutes of normal time remaining but from the resultant free Lee Keegan blazed wide.
Though Donegal Daire O Baoill narrowed the gap to two points, Donegal were guilty of woeful shooting, kicking six wides and dropping two shots short. Cillian O'Connor made it a three-point game from a free; Murphy replied immediately but Andy Moran fisted and then kicked a point to secure a famous Mayo win as Donegal were left to rue ten second-half wides. The attendance was 27,023.
Scorers: Mayo: C O'Connor 1-4, P Durcan 0-3, J Carr, A Moran 0-2, C Barrett, J Doherty, K McLoughlin 0-1 each.
Donegal: M Murphy 1-4 (1-0 pen, 2f), N O'Donnell, P McBrearty, 0-2, D O'Baoill 0-2
Mayo: R Hennelly; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, S Coen; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; F McDonagh, J Doherty, P Durcan; C O'Connor, D Coen, J Carr. Subs:E O'Donoghue for Higgins (BC) (15); A Moran for Coen (26), K McLoughlin for Doherty (inj) (45), F Boland for Carr (65), M Ruane for S O'Shea 35 +1. J Durcan for O'Connor 35 +5
Donegal: S Patton; S McMenamin, P McGrath, O McFadden-Ferry; R McHugh, D O'Baoill, E Doherty; H McFadden, J McGee; M Murphy, N O'Donnell, C Thompson; J Brennan, P McBrearty,M Langan. Subs: L McLoone for McGee (inj) (10), P Brennan for Doherty (32), C Ward for McGrath (inj) (42), O Gallen for Thompson (55), E McHugh for Brennan (BC) (62), E McGettigan for Langan 35 +2.
Referee: David Gough (Meath)