Moran digs deep to help earn revenge for Mayo
In fairness to Jim McGuinness, he's consistent. The results continue to go against his team, but the broader context will always dictate his overview. He knows where they are and he knows the direction they are going.
So, a third successive league defeat, a fourth in the campaign overall, wasn't his biggest concern as he emerged from the Donegal dressing-room at McHale Park. A potentially dislocated knee-cap for his full-back Neil McGee was much more worrying than the concession of a little grain of revenge to Mayo for last year's All-Ireland final defeat.
"As long as he's alright we can live with the result," McGuinness said, adding that the knee had pushed back into place when McGee was in the shower.
Delivering an All-Ireland title for your county for the first time in 20 years creates a trust that the plan is still on course. They're not in need of morale-boosting victories. Thus a week off for the Donegal players will remain in the schedule because it was always part of the schedule.
On Tuesday night week next McGuinness will "push the button" for championship training, irrespective of their league fate. It was their seventh league defeat out of seven away from home over the last two seasons. In that context, Mayo won't be losing the run of themselves with what was only a second league victory over their north-west opponents in 10 previous attempts dating back to 1984.
Donegal in spring – or should that be winter – and Donegal in summer are two different entities. If anything, the home side will be disappointed that the scoreline doesn't accurately reflect the control they exerted in the second half.
Still, they showed plenty of character and resolve, first to turn around a 0-4 to 0-1 deficit after 16 minutes and then to protect an advantage throughout the second half when Donegal pressed hard.
In the end, Michael Conroy's 47th-minute goal sealed it. They confronted Donegal aggressively and ensured that when Michael Murphy or Colm McFadden had possession they were swarmed instantly.
Bearing in mind Saturday's decision to introduce a black card for cynical fouls, it was difficult to determine what would have qualified for such a penalty here. Mayo manager James Horan reckoned there would have been "12 or 14" black cards in Saturday's match between Dublin and Down.
He didn't make an estimate here, but with 13 yellow cards it wasn't hard to determine what type of game it was, with Donegal's Anthony Thompson getting his marching orders on 53 minutes, followed by Mayo's Jason Doherty two minutes from time.
Had the linesmen and umpires paid closer attention to all the pulling and dragging, referee Marty Duffy's arm could have been hanging off him from flashing cards by the end.
"We showed a lot of hard work and honest endeavour. We made hard work of it from a scoring point of view. But we kept working hard and we turned over a huge number of balls. That's what won it for us," Horan said.
McGuinness concurred, numbering those turnovers at nine in the first half alone as Mayo took a 0-6 to 0-4 advantage in with them.
"In trying to create scoring opportunities we kept kicking the ball away," he said. "That's very unlike us, but you would like to think that it is linked to your fitness levels and your fitness levels are linked to your concentration and concentration is linked to making good decisions when you are on the ball.
"So, hopefully, in nine weeks' time, mistakes that are being made now will have been eradicated."
Still there had to be a concern with the form of Neil Gallagher at midfield, regardless of training schedules, while wing-forwards Ryan Bradley and Leo McLoone, two players McGuinness will be hoping to develop more than most this summer, were off the pace and replaced at half-time. Bradley came back on for McGee on 46 minutes, which perhaps reflected just how shallow the depth of Donegal defensive cover is with Karl Lacey still laid up.
For Mayo, Barry Moran dominated midfield, especially in the second half, which will be therapeutic for him after last September. Beside him, Seamus O'Shea worked hard, while Aidan O'Shea also dropped in to ensure near complete dominance for Mayo there.
Nothing reflected the type of work Cathal Carolan got through more than his turnover on Mark McHugh deep in his own half that led to the Conroy goal, with Seamus O'Shea and Keith Higgins supplying the final touches before Conroy's shot crept in off an upright.
Mayo hit five unanswered points from the 17th to the 33rd minute as Kevin McLoughlin, Carolan and Tom Cunniffe from centre-back carried the game to Donegal and Paul Durcan was forced the save smartly from Jason Doherty.
Donegal had got themselves back in contention and when Rory Kavanagh drove over off his right foot on 43 minutes, they looked nicely placed to win for the first time on the road under McGuinness in this division.
But Mayo broke fast when Carolan turned McHugh over and Higgins' quick-fire interjection opened up Donegal for the killer blow.
In a game that produced close to 60 frees and was so heavily couched in defence, a three-point lead was gold dust and they saw it out comfortably after Thompson's red card on 53 minutes, three minutes after his initial yellow.
Enda Varley came on and landed two points as Donegal were caught on the break, but McGuinness could still draw comfort for the long road ahead.
"We would be very happy with the performance in the second half. I think it was the first time during the league that we found a real good intensity level," he said. "We took the battle to them. The sending-off didn't affect us in terms of our mentality."
They find themselves in the exact same position as they were 12 months ago, requiring a home win in their last match to stay in Division 1.
"We know what we're at in terms of fitness," McGuinness said. "I know we've been trotting that out over the last few weeks but that's the reality. It would have been nice to finish the job and to have bought us a couple of extra weeks."
But the bigger picture is all that matters.
Man of the match: B Moran (Mayo)
Scorers – Mayo: C O'Connor 0-5 (4fs), M Conroy 1-0, K McLoughlin (1f), E Varley 0-2 each, C Boyle 0-1. Donegal: C McFadden (2fs), M Murphy (2fs) 0-3 each, R Kavanagh, R McHugh, M O'Reilly 0-1 each.
Mayo – D Clarke 7; C Barrett 7, G Cafferkey 7, K Higgins 7; L Keegan 6, T Cunniffe 8, C Boyle 7; B Moran 8, S O'Shea 7; K McLoughlin 7, A O'Shea 7, C Carolan 8; C O'Connor 6, J Doherty 6, M Conroy 7. Subs: R Feeney 6 for O'Connor (54), D Vaughan 5 for Higgins inj (59), E Varley 8 for Conroy (61), B Gallagher for S O'Shea (64), A Freeman for Carolan (69).
Donegal – P Durcan 8; P McGrath 7, N McGee 7, D Walsh 4; A Thompson 6, E McGee 6, F McGlynn 6; N Gallagher 5, R Kavanagh 6; L McLoone 5, M McHugh 8, R Bradley 5; P McBrearty 6, M Murphy 7, C McFadden 5. Subs: R Wherity 4 for Walsh (23), R McHugh 7 for McLoone (h-t), M O'Reilly 7 for Bradley (h-t), M McElhinney 5 for Wherity (60).
Ref – M Duffy (Sligo).