O'Shea and Keegan goals put paid to jaded Donegal
Mayo 2-13 Donegal 0-11
Goals either side of half-time made the day a lot easier for Mayo than they might have expected, earning them a place in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland in three weeks against Dublin, two strikes that broke Donegal's resistance and sapped their will.
When Donegal reflect on where this got away for them, the injury-time period before the interval will be their first port of call, followed by a short spell on the resumption.
Any score before half-time is regarded as mood-altering but Aidan O'Shea's goal in injury-time landed a critical blow on Donegal's morale. O'Shea began the day in the middle of the field. That lasted only as long as the throw-in and he quickly resumed his recent duties at full-forward, policed closely by Neil McGee, with supplementary cover always at hand.
O'Shea had already figured with some impressive fielding but his most telling contribution came with time almost up in the first half and Donegal having shaved a three-point deficit down to just one. He won a high ball over McGee and slipped between two Donegal players before driving the ball low to the far corner of the net. The score rose the rafters and sent Mayo in four points ahead, 1-7 to 0-6.
Donegal's predicament worsened on the restart when Lee Keegan, already on two points, looked set for a third but his left-foot shot looped over Paul Durcan for what looked a wholly unintended goal. A seven-point lead never mushroomed into the 16-point hammering Donegal took off Mayo two years ago, but they never realistically threatened to save the match from there either.
The first goal from O'Shea rebuffed any notions that Donegal's defence would be able to limit his influence. O'Shea had faced admittedly meek resistance in the Connacht final when he scored 3-4 from play, in a match Mayo won by 26 points, but he won his battle with McGee before the defender had to leave the pitch injured a few minutes after Keegan's goal.
Donegal looked tired in what was their third match in four weeks and Michael Murphy was left to carry most of the load in attack. He finished with eight points of their total, including three from play, starting off full-forward where Ger Cafferkey was deployed as his guard. Mayo set up to reduce Donegal's attacking threat and greatly succeeded, using Colm Boyle as a sweeper and utilising Barry Moran in a more defensive role. Paddy McBrearty failed to score and Odhran MacNiallais' recent bright form was absent and he didn't last the full term, also failing to register.
This loss after a bright start to their Ulster Championship campaign could bring the end of the road for half a dozen of Donegal's players and will surely usher in a new period of transition. Karl Lacey started the match but didn't look at full tilt, hardly surprising given the injuries he's had and the restrictions placed on his preparations. Though only turned 30 he will be one of those now considering his future over the winter. Many like him have given their county a lot and will, if they choose to do so, leave with their heads held high.
Mayo will be pleased to have won without extending themselves to full throttle and will now need to throw everything in their gift at Dublin in the semi-finals. The match died a death after Keegan's second goal, with a Keith Higgins point after 45 minutes widening Mayo's lead to nine, before the game went 14 minutes without a score from either side. Mayo didn't show the ruthlessness to drive on and demolish Donegal, who never looked remotely likely to claw their way out of a hole that deep.
Mayo controlled most of the second half without ever needing to stretch themselves. They had a momentary scare late in the first half when they found themselves stretched and Colm McFadden's shot was saved by David Clarke though he fouled the ball in the process.
Mayo also had the better of the first half although a couple of turnovers, one from Aidan O'Shea losing possession, another from Diarmuid O'Connor giving the ball away, led to breaks and Donegal scores. They have left plenty room for improvement but they're on the right track and Dublin is a challenge that usually brings out the best in them.
Scorers - Mayo: L Keegan 1-2; A O'Shea 1-0; C O'Connor 0-3 (2fs); J Doherty 0-3, K McLoughlin 0-2, K Higgins, A Moran, A Freeman 0-1. Donegal: M Murphy 0-8 (4fs; 1 '45); C Toye, L McLoone, A Thompson 0-1.
Mayo: D Clarke; G Cafferkey, D Vaughan, K Higgins; L Keegan, T Cunniffe, C Boyle; S O'Shea, B Moran; D O'Connor, T Parsons, J Doherty; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, C O'Connor. Subs: C Barrett for Cunniffe (inj 33); P Durcan for Vaughan (53, black card); A Freeman for B Moran (64); K Keane for Cafferkey (69).
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, C Toye; H McFadden, O MacNiallais, M McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden. Subs: M McElhinney for Toye (h-t); A Thompson for N McGee (inj 37); L McLoone for Mac Niallias (38).
Referee: D Gough (Meath)
Sunday Indo Sport