Michael Murphy had already been chosen as Man of the Match in tonight’s rip-roaring League opener by the time James Durcan was brought on with just three minutes of normal time left to play. As late cameos go, though, the Castlebar Mitchels man certainly put on a bit of a show, firing over three points (two from frees) before banging home a sensational last-second goal to secure a share of the points for Mayo.
While such an outcome looked plausible enough at various stages of tonight’s game, as time was running out Donegal seemed to have done enough to claim the win. Indeed, but for their lack of accuracy in front of the posts – they shot several wides and landed more efforts short – they might have won with a bit to spare. Instead, they left the door ajar allowing James Durcan to kick it open with considerable glee.
Donegal drew first blood tonight, Jamie Brennan fed by Michael Murphy before firing over. They had a wide soon after and from this kickout we worked the ball well down the field before Fergal Boland popped over the equaliser.
Donegal dropped deep when we had the ball as they sought to steady themselves into the game. We took the lead when Ryan O’Donoghue was fouled and Brian Reape pointed the free. Our advantage didn’t last long, though, as David Clarke came out a tad wildly and pulled down McGonagle. Murphy obliged from the placed ball.
That one was a 14-yarder but Murphy’s next one – four minutes later – was from fifty yards out. Jordan Flynn fouled McGee and Murphy, his trademark tongue flapping out past his chin, easily had the distance from the free. Donegal then won the restart and Brennan promptly doubled their advantage.
Our next score was slightly weird. David Clarke advanced well past his comfort zone and then bombed the ball forward into the Ballybofey night sky. James Carr tapped it down to Brian Reape who pointed smartly.
After another Donegal wide, David Clarke miscued a short restart but Donegal were unable to take advantage, the goal effort wide on the left. That was a real let-off.
Our good fortune didn’t end there. James Carr claimed a ball inside but didn’t call for the mark and instead angled a shot that looked like an effort at a point. The lack of the mark claim had confused James’ marker but the Ardagh man’s shot confused Donegal ‘keeper Patton more as it looped over him and into the net on the far corner.
We should really have built on that bit of luck. Instead, as we’ve done so often in the past when we get on top in matches, we promptly lost our way. We didn’t score again until Fergal Boland pointed with the final kick of the first half. By then Donegal had tacked on four points and so led by three at the break.
We lost James Carr to injury just before the teams went off, Kevin McLoughlin replacing him. When our lads emerged from the dressing room we’d made two more switches, with Aidan O’Shea coming on for Tom Parsons and Tommy Conroy given a first League run-out in place of Brian Reape.
Donegal gave us a microcosm of their performance tonight with their first two attacks of the second half. The first saw Murphy – who was excellent tonight and, despite James Durcan’s late dramatic cameo, a deserved MOTM – point from a free. Then they followed that up with a bad wide.
But as the second half wore on, it seemed that the home side’s profligacy in front of the posts wasn’t going to cost them the points. They were more incisive and far more direct in attack, with our painfully slow and laboured build-ups much too easy to defend against. In addition, our restarts were way wobblier than theirs, which guaranteed the home team more of the ball around the middle third.
Tommy Conroy didn’t wait long to announce his arrival at Senior level, leaving McGee flailing to fire over. Murphy, inevitably, cancelled that one out with a free at the other end.
Soon after we saw the worst and best of David Clarke in quick succession. He made a hames of yet another restart but when Donegal drove rapidly into the square and Mogan – who took at least a dozen steps before shooting – let fly from close range, the ‘keeper got a touch on it to direct it out for a ’45. Which Murphy, needless to say, drove over.
Four down now but still not out of it as what had been quite a claustrophobic contest at last began to open up a bit. Paddy Durcan scampered forward and was pulled unceremoniously to the floor. With Brian Reape no longer on the field, the freetaking duties fell to Diarmuid O’Connor who swung his effort in from the right and over.
Inside a minute we had the gap cut back down to one. Bryan Walsh, who, like Ryan O’Donoghue, found the step-up to Senior level a bit of a rude shock tonight, was fed by Fergal Boland and thumped over a morale-boosting score. A Kevin McLoughlin free, moved up after McGee mouthed about the award, despite a clear foul on Tommy Conroy, left just a point between the sides with fifteen minutes of normal time to play.
Thompson, a fifty-yarder that bounced before going over, and Kevin McLoughlin then traded points from frees but, with ten minutes left on the clock, Donegal had moved three clear, Langan and McHugh both pointing from play. By now Keith Higgins was in, Bryan Walsh giving way.
Diarmuid O’Connor bagged his second free of the night – though, in truth, those two placed ball scores represented the sum total of the captain’s contribution to this game – but then Ryan O’Donoghue committed a really daft foul right in front of the posts fifty yards out. A meat and potatoes one for Murphy who rammed it over.
Three down now with only as many minutes of normal time to play, we looked a beaten team. James Durcan trotted on at that juncture, in what looked to be a curious substitution as it was the hard-working Fergal Boland who came off for the Mitchels man, a player who only featured for us in two League games last year.
He wasn’t long letting everyone know he was on the pitch, though, as he took possession at pace from Ryan O’Donoghue and fired over. The home side cancelled that one out in kind, however, and so, with the game entering six minutes of injury time, we seemed destined for an opening round defeat.
Two rather charitable refereeing decisions in our favour, though, brought us back to within a point. Jordan Flynn burst forward, head down, and should really have been penalised for barging. Instead we got the free and James Durcan – our fourth freetaker tonight – knocked it over.
Then Kevin McLoughlin went to ground and, again, there didn’t seem to be a free in it but David Coldrick thought there was. James again popped it over.
But those bits of good fortune were quickly wiped out at the other end. A rash challenge by Jordan Flynn gave Donegal a free fifty yards out. Murphy went short, the ball was worked to Thompson and the margin was back to two.
Then James Durcan went into a challenge too hard and Murphy from a tight angle claimed his eighth point of the evening and, so everyone thought, the match points too. With only seconds left to play we drove forward, more in desperation it seemed than hope. Donegal had everyone back and there seemed no way through the congested centre. Somehow, though, James Durcan found the space he needed. His shot was hard and true, the net rippled and we’d somehow managed to steal a draw.
There’s no way our overly laboured performance tonight deserved the outcome we achieved. But, of course, the sweetest result of all is the one you don’t deserve. James’ late, late goal meant we left MacCumhaill Park tonight feeling like we’d won while, for the home team, this surely felt like a defeat.
Coming into this game, avoiding a loss was always going to be enough for us to feel like a good evening’s work. We may have left it very late but the draw we secured in such dramatic fashion tonight allows us to mark this opening round clash as one to be satisfied with. In light of how the evening could – and really should – have gone, that’s a decent return to have come away with.
Mayo: David Clarke; Oisin Mullin, Brendan Harrison, Colm Boyle; Padraig O’Hora, Stephen Coen, Paddy Durcan; Tom Parsons, Jordan Flynn; Bryan Walsh (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-2, frees), Fergal Boland (0-2); Ryan O’Donoghue, Brian Reape (0-2, one free), James Carr (1-0). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin (0-2, frees) for Carr, Tommy Conroy (0-1) for Reape, Aidan O’Shea for Parsons, Keith Higgins for Walsh, James Durcan (1-3, two frees) for Boland.
Who was our Man of the Match against Donegal? Pick your top three performers
- James Durcan (31%, 461 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (18%, 261 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (7%, 106 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (6%, 93 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (6%, 87 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (4%, 61 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (4%, 59 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (4%, 55 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (3%, 51 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (3%, 48 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (3%, 39 Votes)
- David Clarke (3%, 38 Votes)
- James Carr (2%, 33 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (2%, 27 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 15 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (1%, 10 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 9 Votes)
- Brian Reape (0%, 7 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (0%, 3 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 847