Lorcan Connor . . . lively for Donegal with 0-5.
Donegal, despite being short a big number of their top players and playing with 14 men for most of the second half, put up a great performance against Mayo in the North West Cup in Ballina.
This was in keeping with the two outstanding encounters Mayo and Donegal produced in the North/West Cup last season! Without question the games were the makings of Mayo as they went on to lift the All-Ireland Championship later on in the season.
Donegal were without a big number of first team players, who were involved with the Donegal seniors in a challenge game against Meath. Among those not available were Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Conor Morrison, Ethan O'Donnell, Jason McGee, Michael Langan, Michael Carroll, Cian Mulligan and Caolan McGonagle.
On a beautiful day in James Stephens Park, Ballina both sides’ contrived to serve up a thrill-a-minute encounter in which the result was in the melting pot to the death.
Donegal controlled this game for long periods, and looked to be on their way to the final when they lost right-half back Colm Kelly to a second yellow card minutes after half time. They led by 1-10 to 1-6 at that juncture and were in control of the game.
Just after Kelly’s dismissal, they extended their lead with a pointed free from livewire Lorcan Connor.
However, they failed to score again as the numerical disadvantage proved too great a burden to carry.
The first quarter of the game was evenly contested with the teams rather slow to find their feet.
Brian Reape (free) and James Lyons bisected the posts with points for the home side, with Lorcan Connor and goalkeeper Paddy Byrne (‘45’) replying for Donegal.
As the play evolved, the visitors began to dominate with some eye-catching combined play. A Lorcan Connor minor from a placed ball edged them ahead. Then on 18 minutes, Donegal wing-back Ciarán Diver score a goal good enough to adorn any stage. It had its origins in the Mayo defence after a defender lost possession, with Michael Lynch capitalising in sending Diver through.
Brian Reape (free) and Lorcan Connor, also from a placed ball, exchanged points.
Brian Reape then scored a Mayo point after Sharoise Akram made the incision.
James Carr struck a mortal blow for the eventual winners’ when he scored a great individual goal five minutes before the break.
Rather than capitalise on the score, Mayo lost their momentum and allowed Donegal to finish the half firmly in command.
The losing side scored four unanswered points before half time, with Niall O’Donnell landing three of them and Lorcan Connor the other from a placed ball.
Donegal deservedly led by 1-8 to 1-4 at half-time.
Donegal will forever rue the three wides they kicked from favourable positions immediately after half-time.
However they consolidated their position with points from Niall O’Donnell and John Campbell.
Mayo had a chance to cut the lead to three points when they were awarded a penalty after substitute Kevin Quinn was fouled.
Fionán Duffy’s rising shot skimmed the bar leaving Donegal five to the good and seemingly on their way to the final.
When T J Byrne pointed for the home side it seemed like a token gesture but Colm Kelly’s dismissal literally changed everything.
Mayo introduced some young substitutes, many of them having played minor football last season. Their introduction together with Kelly’s dismissal changed the trend and the course of the game.
Mayo finished the half strongly and rattled off six unanswered points from Kevin Quinn (two), Ryan O’Donoghue (two), and James Carr (two).
A win that seemed beyond Mayo was now a reality as they finished with a flourish to reach the final of the competition.
Mayo will look for a huge improvement going forward. Certainly the changes helped their cause, but they must ask if Donegal hadn’t lost Colm Kelly what would be the end result.
Donegal will certainly have benefited from a quality game such as this, and will point to Mayo’s improvement after the tight games between the sides’ in the competition last season. Mayo will meet Sligo in the final as Derry have already pulled out of the competition.
MAYO: S Kilker; S Brennan, E O’Donoghue, S Conlon; J Forkan, D Cannon, S Akram; J McCormack, S Walsh; J Reilly, B Reape (0-3,2fs), J Lyons (0-1); T J Byrne (0-1), J Carr (1-2fs), F Duffy (0-1). Subs used; K Quinn (0-2) for Reape; J Kelly for S Walsh; C Hennelly for J Reilly; R O’Donoghue (0-2) for F Duffy.
DONEGAL: P Byrne (0-1,’45’); C McGeady, S McMenamin, K McGettigan; C Kelly, T McClenaghan, C Diver (1-0); M Lynch, D Clarke; N Ó Baoill, N O’Donnell (0-4), C McLaughlin; L Connor (0-5,4fs), J Campbell (0-1), D Black. Subs used; C Doherty for D Black; S Graham for P Byrne; G McBride for N Ó Baoill; D Gallagher for J Campbell; A Neilly for D Clarke
REFEREE: B Judge (Sligo).