Donegal’s Nicky Rackard championship ambitions are over following Saturday's four point semi-final defeat by Mayo.
But Donegal gave a fancied Mayo team, who had All-Star footballer Keith Higgins at centre half back, a run for their money before a sizable crowd at O'Donnell Park.
The attendance in Letterkenny was in the region of 500-plus, as big a crowd seen at a Donegal hurling game for a good few years.
Mayo won and deserved to. They were the better team over the 70 plus minutes. Their stick work was that little bit slicker but the big difference was in front of the posts. When it came to scoring they were far more clinical than their hosts.
Mayo played with the breeze advantage and were on fire in the opening minutes.
Their first four strikes at the Donegal posts ended in scores as they raced into 0-4 to 0-0 lead by the eighth minute. Fullforward Kenny Sweeney hit the first three, two from frees.
Mayo, who were first to every ball and on the pace, added one more score courtesy of Joseph McManus before Cian Mathewson got Donegal off the mark, with the game’s first goal.
Mathewson finished well from a tight angle after being sent clear by Sean McVeigh to make it a one point game, 0-4 to 1-0.
Goals can often work wonders and for the next 12 minutes it did as Donegal went toe to toe with Mayo and more or less matched the Westerners score for score for the next while.
Henderson (2), Danny Cullen and Niall Cleary all hit points in response to strikes from Cathal Freeman, Feeney, Shane Boland and two from Sean Regan and the margin was only two, 0-9 to 1-4, with a little over ten minutes to half-time.
Mayo upped the tempo again in the closing exchanges and by half time led 0-13 to 1-5
Facing into the stiff breeze Mayo again broke from the traps on the resumption. Darren McTighe, in the blink of an eye had driven over two points, before six minutes into the new half Joe McManus pounced for the Mayo goal and a 1-15 to 1-5 margin.
To make matters worse for Donegal they also lost Justin McGhee to injury.
Looking down the barrel, Donegal’s response was positive. Sean McVeigh landed a point and Henderson found the groove with two long range strikes to reduce the margin to seven by the end of the third quarter.
Young Jack O’Loughlin strode forward for a well taken point and Henderson converted another free to reduce the margin to five, 1-15 to 1-10 with 15 minutes left.
Feeney and Henderson traded scores before Danny Cullen struck for Donegal’s second goal and all of a sudden the margin was down to two. With the momentum with Donegal, the impossible was becoming a possibility.
Cullen showed exceptional wrist work when the ball was flicked off his stick as he bore down on the Mayo posts, to double on the loose ball and from ten metres rattle the Mayo net.
But as if an illustration of Mayo's overall superiority Fergal Boland and Feeney responded with injury time points to end any hope of an upset.
Donegal: Paul Burns; Pauric Doherty, Justin McGhee, Mark Callaghan; Jack O’Loughlin (0-1), Jamsie Donnelly, Christopher McDermott; Danny Cullen (1-1), Ciaran Mathewson (1-0); Lee Henderson (0-7, 5f, 1 '65), Niall Cleary (0-1), Bernard Lafferty; Ronan McDermott, Stephen Gillespie, Sean McVeigh (0-1). Subs: Joe Boyle for J McGhee (44, in); Kevin Campbell for B Lafferty (49); Paddy Hannigan for N Cleary (49); Conor O’Donnell for J Donnelly (68).
Mayo: Donal O’Brien; Eoghan Collins, Gerard McManus, Brian Hunt; Cathal Freeman (0-1), Keith Higgins, Austin Lyons; Ciaran Charlton, Kieran McDermott (0-1); Sean Regan (0-4), Padraig O’Flynn, Joseph McManus (1-1); Darren McTighe (0-2), Kenny Feeney (0-7, 5f,1 '65), Shane Boland (0-1).
Subs: Pa Connell for P O'Flynn, Fergal Boland (0-1) for A Lynon (both h/t); David Kenny for J McManus (53); Corey Scahill for D McTighe (62); Sean Mulroy for S Boland (68).
Referee: J. Murphy (Limerick)