Mayo confounded the critics and bookmakers alike with a “men versus boys” display to defeat Donegal and earn their place in the All-Ireland semi-final. Next Saturday evening will most likely see Mayo take on the Dubs in Croke Park but that can wait until tomorrow. Tonight is about savouring a special victory and a special bunch of players.
It was a spine-tingling occasion in Castlebar, in what was for all intents and purposes a home All-Ireland quarter-final. The Mayo crowd were in raucous form throughout and the atmosphere behind the wire was matched by a performance for the ages. Mayo outworked, outmuscled and “out-footballed” a Donegal side who had previously been touted as All-Ireland contenders.
This Mayo bunch have shipped some criticism, more than most I would argue, but tonight they proved their mettle on the pitch in MacHale Park. They sent every Mayo man, woman and child home with two things in abundance – pride in their county and hope for what could be to come.
James Horan made two expected changes to the side originally named. Keith Higgins returned to the full-back line with Eoin O’Donoghue making way, and Paddy Durcan started the game ahead of Fergal Boland. Declan Bonner made one alteration for Donegal with Eamonn Doherty starting for the injured Neil McGee.
Indeed, it was Donegal who started the game the brighter and reeled off the first two scores of the game in the first three minutes through Paddy McBrearty and Niall O’Donnell, who was one of Donegal’s few standout players on the day. McBrearty gave a roar to his marker after opening the scoring. It would be as good as it got for the Kilcar man in Castlebar.
Some of the opening exchanges were ferocious and the hits around the middle were immense, where the two O’Sheas were ensuring Mayo were not going to be bullied on their home ground. One sensed from the start that we were going to get a hell of a performance at least from our boys, regardless of what the outcome might be.
Mayo settled into the game with Paddy Durcan tapping over after Donegal goalkeeper Patton was dispossessed by Aidan O’Shea. Patton looked nervy and a poor short kickout led to an early goal opportunity for Mayo. However, Patton made up for his error with a point-blank save from Darren Coen’s tame effort who really should have scored. It was a luckless night for the Hollymount/Carramore clubman who was substituted before half-time.
Cillian O’Connor levelled the scoring before Chris Barrett put Mayo in front with a beautiful effort from the right wing. However, Donegal go down the other end and McBrearty runs through on goal only to be hauled down by Keith Higgins. David Gough, who made some dubious calls at times, interpreted the definite foul to be a black card for Higgins and his game was over after just fourteen minutes. Michael Murphy tapped over the free to open his account and Eoin O’Donoghue came on in place of Higgins.
From that point onwards Mayo took control of the game and outscored Donegal by 1-4 to 0-1 for the remainder of the first half. After excellent, patient build-up by Mayo where they kept possession for nearly two minutes, the ball came to Jason Doherty who kicked over a boomer from the 45 metre line.
Mayo led by a point and it was a lead they would not relinquish for the entire game. James Carr, who was full of running and showed well, scored a wonderful point from play which was followed up by a Cillian O’Connor free to give Mayo a three-point lead.
Mayo had the aid of the wind and despite being the better team, there was a real concern that we were not as dominant on the scoreboard as we were on the field. There were a number of poor wides during this period where Donegal were struggling to get any foothold in the game with Paddy Durcan and Lee Keegan doing phenomenal man-marking jobs on Ryan McHugh and Michael Murphy respectively.
The crucial score of the game from a Mayo perspective came in the 30th minute in the form of a Cillian O’Connor goal. Jason Doherty didn’t fully connect with his right foot effort from the left wing and it fell short at the back post where our poacher O’Connor was on hand to palm to the net. We seem to have a got a couple of goals like this over the years. One more next weekend won’t do any harm either!
As is Mayo’s wont to do, however, we almost allowed Donegal in for a goal immediately after scoring one ourselves. Donegal won the kickout unchallenged and Jamie Brennan was advancing ominously on Robbie Hennelly’s goal. However, Brennan didn’t account for Colm Boyle who landed an unmerciful thump of a shoulder on him to deny his route to goal. It was clean. It was fair. It was Colm Boyle!
Murphy would point another free in the 33rd minute to end a remarkable period of eighteen minutes without Donegal scoring. Donegal put 1-20 up against Kerry. They were being well and truly shut down by the Mayo defence today.
The rampant Paddy Durcan kicked the final score of the half with his weaker left foot following a lovely pop pass from O’Connor to give Mayo a 1-7 to 0-4 lead at half time. Mayo left the field to a standing ovation from their incredible support. The bond between player and supporter was sure as hell there tonight. It was a six point lead but hard not to feel it could, and should have been a few more.
As expected, Donegal came out of the blocks fast trying to eat into the deficit they faced. Niall O’Donnell scored the opening point of the second half. Mayo responded well and James Carr extended the lead again, swinging over a beautiful curling effort having been set up by evergreen and energetic Andy Moran who had come in for Darren Coen before half time.
Moran gave Mayo a wonderful focal point for their attack and his importance to Mayo is simply monumental. Mayo had settled nicely.
But then came a hammer blow! A long ball was launched into the square in the direction of Murphy who had moved inside. Referee Gough adjudged that Lee Keegan was holding Murphy and awarded the penalty. The ball was in the air a long time and perhaps Keegan could have been assisted if Hennelly had cleaned out all in front of him.
Murphy stepped up and coolly slotted the ball to the left of Hennelly who had dived the other way. It was well and truly game on in MacHale Park now.
Hugh McFadden nailed Aidan O’Shea after the penalty was scored and you have to wonder how Gough only deemed it worthy of a yellow card. Donegal were doing everything they could to upset Mayo’s rhythm – by fair or foul means.
Things got worse for Mayo when Jason Doherty, who was having a fantastic game, was stretchered off after superbly gathering a kickout. It looked a bad one unfortunately. Fingers crossed it looked worse than it was.
Doherty’s replacement, Kevin McLoughlin, weaved in from the right sideline and curled over a typical left foot effort to settle Mayo nerves. Donegal however were starting to motor now and, between the 48th and 51st minutes, they would reel off three scores in a row from Daire O’Baoill, McBrearty and Murphy. Murphy’s influence on this Donegal side was starting to show and the deficit was down to just a point with a scoreline of 1-9 to 1-8.
When Mayo needed someone to step up, man of the hour and my Man of the Match Paddy Durcan did so in immense fashion. As well as keeping Ryan McHugh in his pocket, Durcan scored three points from play, the last of which after a driving run through the middle, put two between the sides. O’Connor followed up with a simple free in the 59th minute and Mayo were going down the home stretch with a three-point lead.
Whilst Mayo’s wide count was poor in the first half, Donegal caught the disease in the second half and would kick a number of bad wides. Even sharpshooters such as Murphy and McBrearty were wayward with poor efforts. O’Baoill pointed for Donegal in the 64th minute to bring the margin back to two points.
O’Connor would extend the lead through another free following some excellent play from Andy Moran who drew the foul. When a wise head is needed, you would want no other player on that pitch in the final minutes than the Ballaghadereen man. It was now 1-12 to 1-9 and we were heading into seven minutes of added time. Seven minutes to survive!
Murphy, who quite simply is a phenomenal player and leader of this team, would point again to put two points between the sides. A draw would be good enough for Donegal to advance. Mayo needed victory. Only a win would do.
It was that man Andy again who would steer James Horan’s men to victory in the final minutes. Boland, who had replaced James Carr at this stage, neatly found Moran in the 73rd minute. Moran did the sensible option and fisted over to leave the score 1-13 to 1-10. Mayo were using their bench to full effect at this stage and a massive roar emanated from the stand when Matthew Ruane emerged to replace Seamus O’Shea, who put in a colossal shift.
Having Ruane back was a massive addition. So too Tom Parsons, who was an unused substitute tonight. Being able to call on the inspirational Charlestown clubman again is just another sign that perhaps the pieces of the puzzle are fitting into shape.
Mayo wrapped up this sensational victory with Moran getting the insurance point deep into added time to put four between the sides. Gough’s final whistle is greeted with massive noise from Mayo support. Their heroes live to fight another day.
And that day is next Saturday. Given Mickey Harte has made fifteen changes to the Tyrone side for the game tomorrow it is most likely our opponents will be Dublin. I will think about that tomorrow evening though.
For now, I want to just salute an absolutely phenomenal display from the boys in Green and Red. Tonight was special. The occasion, the colour, the atmosphere, the support, the game. Everything about tonight was majestic. Not least of all our players.
From every Mayo supporter in the country, across the country and across the globe, thank you for tonight. More again next week please!
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly, Chris Barrett (0-1), Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Stephen Coen; Aidan O’Shea, Seamus O’Shea; Fionn McDonagh, Jason Doherty (0-1), Patrick Durcan (0-3); Cillian O’Connor (1-4, four frees), Darren Coen , James Carr (0-2). Subs: Eoin O’Donoghue for Higgins (black card), Andy Moran (0-2) for D Coen, Kevin McLoughlin (0-1) for Doherty, Fergal Boland for Carr, Matthew Ruane for S O’Shea, James Durcan for O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Donegal? Pick your top three performers
- Paddy Durcan (31%, 717 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (22%, 512 Votes)
- Andy Moran (9%, 219 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (7%, 158 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (6%, 146 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (5%, 108 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (5%, 106 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (3%, 75 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (3%, 58 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (2%, 45 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (2%, 45 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (2%, 39 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 24 Votes)
- James Carr (1%, 16 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (1%, 13 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 12 Votes)
- James Durcan (0%, 8 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (0%, 7 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 5 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (0%, 4 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,208