Some might’ve thought that with the whiff of relegation barely to be smelt following Donegal’s comprehensive 1-13 to 0-6 victory over Tyrone last week, that things in the Allianz League Division One were petering out.
Not so at Elvery’s MacHale Park in Castlebar where scant few from the 12,304 in attendance would’ve been making their way towards the exit gates before David Coldrick’s final toot of the whistle.
After a promising first half Donegal seemed to be losing their way. Mayo, though, couldn’t put them to bed. Nine second half wides - following four in the first 35 minutes - were stifling their chances.
The Connacht champions were punished for those inaccuracies when Stephen Griffin, who was making his first appearance for Donegal since January 2013, pointed after being set-up by Eamon McGee.
We were in the fourth minute of two minutes injury time, which had been broadened with Mayo picking up a flurry of late cards.
“We really hung in the game at times when Mayo had an awful lot of dominance,” Donegal manager Rory Gallagher said afterwards.
“They were going very well at midfield and were very strong but we showed good character.
“We looked out on our feet for a spell coming up to half-time as we had a couple of tough sessions during the week and after the game last weekend. We kept driving at Mayo and didn’t want to be beat. We got there in the end.”
Griffin’s late point set up a semi-final clash with Cork at Croke Park. Six years ago, the then 21-year-old from St Naul’s grabbed one of Donegal’s goals as they were hammered 1-27 to 2-10 by the Munster side. Donegal have done some marvellous things at GAA HQ since then but Griffin hasn’t played there since that murky afternoon in 2009.
“Stephen was called in for the trial process pre-Christmas and he said then he was going to Australia for a few weeks,” Gallagher said of Griffin.
“But he came back in really good shape, which you could see today. He came straight back on February 20. He didn’t have to go chasing fitness.”
Donegal were chasing yesterday without their talisman Michael Murphy, who was serving his one-match suspension having picked up a red card and a couple of blacks over the course of the spring. For a while it looked as though a point would’ve been hard to pick up. Prior to Griffin’s point Donegal only had five efforts - two Patrick McBrearty points and his disallowed goal, one from Colm McFadden and a Paddy McGrath wide - at the Mayo goal.
“I thought the experienced lads like Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey were excellent,” manager Gallagher added of his troops. “We had a tough week’s training and the intensity that they showed there till the end was excellent. We had no Michael Murphy, Neil Gallagher or Paul Durcan there too and they’re prominent players.
“We definitely missed Neil around the middle of the field. But it was a good test as you might be without any one of them any day. Neil went off with a slight hamstring injury last week.
“Patrick McBrearty was excellent and he has had a very good league. Him and Colm McFadden toiled away. Odhran MacNiallais hasn’t done a lot of training with injury this year but we’re delighted with the way he came through it. He was very good today; particularly in the first half.
“The goal that was disallowed was maybe a little harsh and that would’ve given us some breathing space.”
As it turned out, Griffin’s point, which landed over the Mayo crossbar at almost the exact same time as Darren McCurry’s equaliser for Tyrone in their ill-fated 0-17 to 1-14 draw with Kerry.
Had either drifted wide of the post, the All-Ireland champions would’ve been in the last four instead of the team they beat in last year’s final.
Mickey Harte’s team fell through the trapdoor with Brian McIver’s Derry. Tyrone can now put their eggs in the championship basket.
They’re due back in Ballybofey in the preliminary round of the Ulster SFC on May 17.
“We will welcome the other game,” Gallagher said of Cork. “There’s no harm in it now as we’ve only six weeks till Tyrone.
“We have to embrace that and we came down here to get a performance and try to get a result so the draw gets us the game. It was a good, competitive performance.
“Croke Park is good exposure for some of the younger fellas and that’s something we might look at next week. We’d be reasonably happy with the league overall.
“Number one was that we avoided relegation and that was more or less assured coming onto day and there were a number of very competitive performances. We got our key players on the pitch.”
Two points - 190km apart as the crow would drive - mean Donegal have a Sunday afternoon appointment at Croke Park. That’s an opportunity that’s always worth taking