By Brendan O’Brien, Croke Park
Donegal 1-11 Mayo 2-13
Mayo booked their place in a fifth successive All-Ireland semi-final with a composed and mature dismissal of what was a tired-looking Donegal side in the last of the season’s quarter-finals at Croke Park this evening.
The Connacht side looked much the better for the vast majority of it against an aging Donegal outfit that had just seven days to recalibrate after their fourth round qualifier defeat of Galway at the same venue.
Yet, that isn’t to extract credit from Mayo who were professional without ever being sublime. They went over 15 minutes without a score at one stage in the second-half, for example, but Donegal were unable to profit from their sabbatical and the hint of danger passed.
Dublin will hardly be so inclined the next day.
Donegal started Karl Lacey and Eamonn McGee despite pre-week doubts about the fitness of both.
However, Christy Toye and Hugh McFadden were late additions to the 15 with Martin McElhinny and Martin O’Reilly making way.
Mayo drafted in Barry Moran for his namesake Andy in the one and only change to their declared side and the Connacht champions were clearly the better side in an intriguing first-half that bubbled and simmered without ever coming to the boil.
Michael Murphy hugged the Mayo square more than maybe he was expected while Aidan O’Shea stationed himself at the opposite end for the more part, though he did migrate further towards centrefield now and again.
He was much more damaging in on goal.
O’Shea butted heads with Neil McGee time and again and came out the better. His prints were all over a handful of Mayo’s scores by the time he plucked a high ball out of the sky and from underneath his marker’s nose and turned to shoot to the net.
That was the last action of the first-half and the 1-7 to 0-6 lead it gave his side made for a much truer reflection on their dominance in that first period when Mayo looked more secure at the back than they had been while their tackling all over the field was ferocious.
Their management of the ball in their own half was exemplary and the surfeit of possession allowed them the luxury of launching in the Hail Marys to O’Shea in the knowledge that the big man had only to win one or two to have his say.
That he did.
Both sides depended on long point attempts early on. Murphy obliged for Donegal while Lee Keegan freewheeled up from wing-back to find the mark twice for Mayo whose penchant for taking quick frees also opened up avenues to be exploited.
Donegal found opportunities more difficult to excavate, but Colm McFadden scuffed a great goal chance a couple of minutes before the break which, though it mined a pointed free for Murphy after David Clarke handled on the ground, paled in comparison to O’Shea’s goal soon after.
Matters went from bad to worse for Donegal within minutes of the restart with Neil McGee having to walk off injured around about the same time Keegan, on another of his walkabouts, popped a shot over Paul Durcan’s left hand and under his crossbar.
Did he mean it? Not a chance, but its impact was no less devastating for it. Donegal plugged away but they lacked the oomph needed to pull the game out of the fire.
The only matter of note late on came when Kevin Keane saw a straight red for a strike on Murphy.
Not perfect from Mayo, then, but an impressive win all the same.
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; C Toye, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, M Murphy; H McFadden, O Mac Niallais, M McHugh; R McHugh, C McFadden, P McBrearty. Subs: M McElhinney for Toye (HT); A Thompson for N McGee (inj, 38); L McLoone for Mac Niallais (39).
Mayo: D Clarke; T Cunniffe, K Higgins, G Cafferkey; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; S O’Shea, T Parsons; D O’Connor, J Doherty, B Moran; C O’Connor, A O’Shea, K McLoughlin. Subs: C Barrett for Cunniffe (inj, 34); P Durcan for Vaughan (black card, 55); A Moran for B Moran (blood sub, 61); A Freeman for S O’Shea (65); K Keane for Cafferkey (70).
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy (0-8, 4 frees, 1 ‘45’); C Toye, A Thompson, L McLoone (all 0-1).
Scorers for Mayo: L Keegan (1-2); A O’Shea (1-0); J Doherty (0-3); C O’Connor (0-3, 2 frees); K McLoughlin (0-2); A Freeman, K Higgins and A Moran (all 0-1).
Referee: D Gough (Meath).