A MUCH improved second half performance saw 14-man Donegal turn the tables on Mayo at Fr Tierney Park on Sunday to ease their relegation worries.
Rory Kavanagh was controversially sent off a minute before half-time for flinging an arm in the direction of Kevin McLoughlin after the Mayo wing-forward had pulled the Donegal centre-fielder’s shirt as he was about to take a free.
After McLoughlin hit the deck clutching his face Sligo referee Marty Duffy brandished a straight red card. The only contact seemed to be to McLoughlin’s chest and Kavanagh left the field shaking his head.
Having trailed by five points at one stage in the first half, Donegal had bitten their arrears down to a two-point deficit, 1-5 to 0-6, when Kavanagh was dismissed, although there was a slight air of deflation at half-time.
The gusting wind, though, had been at Mayo’s backs in the first half and their second period was fruitless until goalkeeper David Clarke knocked over a 45 one minute from time, by which stage full-back Ger Cafferkey had also been sent from the field to balance the books after a foul too many on Michael Murphy.
Jim McGuinness’s preparations were hampered when All-Star full-back Neil McGee cried off with flu and his brother Eamon replaced him on the square’s edge, while James Horan had to plan without the suspended Aidan O’Shea.
The Connacht champions opened much the brighter and by the midpoint of the first half had built a healthy advantage. Ten minutes in, Enda Varley netted what proved to be the only goal of the game when he scuffed home after Conor Mortimer had sneaked in behind Eamon McGee to lay on the chance
The goal proved to be the rubber-stamping of Mayo’s initial dominance with McLoughlin, Alan Dillon and Mortimer adding points, the westerners led 1-3 to 0-1, with Patrick McBrearty the only home scorer in the first 20 minutes.
However, Donegal began to get on top, helped primarily by Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher getting to grips with Seamus O’Shea and Barry Moran in the middle third.
The Ulster champions, who had used their captain Murphy in a roaming role to begin with, starting shifting through the gears from then until the end of the half.
Murphy and Colm McFadden added a brace of points each to reduce the margin although Mayo, through two Mortimer frees, were in a reasonably good position at the interval, two points and a man up.
It’s often the case when a side is a man light the increased effort of the remnants of the team acts as a healthy compensation measure. Martin McElhinney came from the bench to partner Gallagher and Donegal never looked back from there.
Murphy was plonked in his most natural abode at full-forward and wreaked havoc, particular with the wind assisting Donegal’s directness.
Barely two minutes of the second half had been played when Karl Lacey broke from the half-back line and although in with a chance of a goal, was content enough to sling over a point. Then, another two McFadden frees either side of McBrearty’s second of the day put Donegal in front of the first time, 0-10 to 1-6, on 45 minutes.
The tide continued to press toward the Belleek end of the ground and Mayo’s attacks were both infrequent and uninspiring.
In 34 second half minutes they produced just four efforts at goal, three which dropped short into Paul Durcan’s hands and one that drifted wide of the posts.
There was also a decent penalty shout when Andy Moran was floored with Anthony Thompson and Paddy McGrath were in the vicinity. That misfortune was counterbalanced at the other end when McFadden’s dipping shot at a point was unconventionally bumped onto the crossbar by Clarke.
Donegal were in control and attacking from deep into little corridors of profitability. Leo McLoone scored a fine individual point after a daring break from his own half, while Murphy and Mark McHugh scored really eye-catching points. All the while, McFadden kept pointing frees and added one from play. Cafferkey walked eight minutes from time.
Whatever Mayo fans were still in the ground got something to cheer at the bitter end when Clarke scored a 45 and Michael Conroy was also on the mark but, somewhat appropriately, the hosts’ final two points of the afternoon came from McFadden and Murphy, bringing their combined total to 13 points.
It marked the conclusion of arguably Donegal’s best performance of the year to date, with another fixture of vital importance against All-Ireland champions Dublin at Croke Park this Saturday night.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Frank McGlynn, Eamon McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey (0-1), Leo McLoone (0-1); Rory Kavanagh, Neil Gallagher; Mark McHugh (0-1), Ryan Bradley, Martin O’Reilly; Colm McFadden (0-7, 6f), Michael Murphy (0-5, 2f), Patrick McBrearty (0-2). Subs: Martin McElhinney for O’Reilly (half-time), Dermot Molloy for Bradley (55), David Walsh for McBrearty (70).
Mayo: David Clarke (0-1, 45); Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Peader Gardiner, Donal Vaughan, Lee Keegan; Seamus O’Shea, Barry Moran; Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Andy Moran, Alan Dillon (0-1); Conor Mortimer (0-3, 3f), Alan Freeman, Enda Varley (1-0). Subs: Pat Harte for Freeman (half-time); Richie Feeney for Keegan (43); Cillian O’Connor for Varley (60); Jason Doherty for McLoughlin (69), Michael Conroy (0-1) for Mortimer (69).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).
Man of the match
Donegal were without Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden for their first two outings in Division One and the pair are hugely important. Murphy takes the award from clubmate Neil Gallagher. The half-back line of Leo McLoone, Anthony Thompson and Karl Lacey also played well.
Rory Kavanagh’s sending off galvanised Donegal and they steamrolled Mayo in a fine second half for the home team.
Marty Duffy wasn’t flavour of the month in Donegal last year after sending off Michael Murphy in the Ulster quarter-final against Cavan. That decision was rescinded and Jim McGuinness will hope for a similar outcome with Rory Kavanagh. However, the referee can claim a strike and that he was correct by the letter of the law.
With Laois and Down posting unexpected wins against Armagh and Dublin respectively everything is up in the air in Division One. Donegal presumably need a win from either Dublin or Armagh to stay up, while Mayo have a daunting final three games against Cork, Dublin and Kerry.