Never say die Mayo survive misfiring foes
Mayo 1-14 Donegal 1-10
Mayo's acts of defiance simply know no bounds. No football team this decade is better at producing a winning performance when it is needed most in the All-Ireland series. Finals are an entirely different issue, of course.
Next weekend they will be appearing in their eighth semi-final in nine seasons which underlines the level of consistency this group of players has produced under four different management teams.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
They may never win an All-Ireland but for their stubbornness, indomitable spirit and ability to overcome incredible odds they deserve an honourable one.
Yet again their army of fans will mobilise for another trip to Croke Park. They will almost certainly face Dublin next Saturday given that Tyrone are fielding a reserve team in Omagh against the All-Ireland champions this afternoon.
"I thought the application and work-rate was superb right through," said Mayo boss James Horan. "The turnovers we won in the first half and the tackles that guys put in. We didn't get the return we should have and that's always a concern.
"Going into the second half we knew Donegal were going to come at us and did they. I thought they got a soft free or two and a penalty to get them into it, but we responded very well.
"Andy Moran, Kevin McLoughlin, Fergal Boland and James Durcan when they came on were very strong for us."
Donegal manager Declan Bonner bemoaned their missed chances. "You can't afford to kick the wides we kicked in the second half and get a result at this level and that's disappointing," he said.
"It was hugely disappointing. We have been scoring all season and they were decent chances - not just one or two."
Mayo will be 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 last night against the Ulster champions.
A first-half goal from Cillian O'Connor was a key score as the home side led by six points at the break. After Donegal captain Michael Murphy converted a 41st-minute penalty the visitors narrowed the gap to one point.
But Mayo replacements Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin scored three points while the magnificent Paddy Durcan - back for his first appearance since he was injured against Galway in the qualifiers - not alone held Ryan McHugh scoreless but kicked three points from play in a low-scoring attritional game played in the rain. 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.
They chose their biggest game of the season to produce their most ineffectual performance of the championship and never look comfortable, aside from the opening 90 seconds when they kicked two points - their only ones from play in the first half.
Shaun Patton's normally assured restarts unravelled as early as the fourth minute when O'Connor intercepted a short kick-out and flicked the ball to Darren Coen, but the keeper redeemed himself with a super save.
Donegal pressed Mayo high up the field on their kick-outs but while Mayo were struggling to win first phase possession from them, their tenacity in the middle third forced Donegal to eventually cough up the ball.
Tactically Mayo got it spot on with Lee Keegan. Despite conceding a dubious second-half penalty, he effectively policed Murphy who was restricted to two points from play. But it was Durcan's role in neutralising Ryan McHugh which inflicted most damage.
Mayo made light of the black-carding of Keith Higgins in the first quarter though by then Donegal had lost midfielder Jason McGee through injury. Although Mayo were sharper, their finishing before an attendance of 27,023 was below par in the first half as they kicked seven wides compared to four for the visitors.
In an effort to improve their finishing Horan introduced veteran Andy Moran before the break, and it paid dividends.
In contrast, none of the Donegal replacements made a telling impact and the way in which youngster Oisín Gallen was repeatedly stripped of possession after his introduction underlined how much the Mayo defence were on top.
Still, when Donegal narrowed the gap to a point (1-9 to 1-8) after 52 minutes when Murphy hit a point after Patton saved magnificently from Moran, the visitors looked poised to at least secure the draw they needed to progress.
But they only managed to score another two points while Mayo hit 0-5 coming down the final stretch.
Donegal's squandering of chances proved costly as they kicked ten second-half wides and dropped two short. Murphy, on the eve of his 30th birthday, was responsible for three of them while Michael Langan kicked a brace.
And such was Mayo's control that they never looked in real danger during the seven minutes of injury time.
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, D O'Baoill 0-2 each.
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: D Gough (Meath)
Sunday Indo Sport