Donegal recorded their second win of the North West U-21 Cup with a narrow, hard fought win over Mayo on Saturday afternoon in O’Donnell Park.
Donegal . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-9
Mayo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-8
It took a super injury time point from team captain Ciaran Thompson to clinch the win over an understrength Mayo after the Connacht men had come from 1-8 to 0-5 down with a little over a quarter hour remaining.
Donegal manager Declan Bonner, with Danny Rodgers, Ciaran Gillespie, Stephen McBrearty, Ciaran Thompson and Caolan McGonagle back from county senior and college duty, fielded his strongest team to date in the competition.
Mayo, who won their games against Fermanagh and Sligo with considerable ease, started an experimental 15 and were without up to nine of what are considered first choice.
Only four of the All-Ireland minor winning team from three years ago - David Kenny at full-back; Michael Hall at centre-half back; Michael Plunkett at left half-back and Val Roughneen at midfield were in the starting line-up. They lost Hall to injury at half-time.
But there was nothing experimental looking about the visitors in the early exchanges as they tore into Donegal from the off.
With Mikey Murray, Fergal Boland and Colm Reape leading the charge they hit the game’s opening three scores to lead 0-3 to 0-0 after 17 minutes.
Indeed, but for their difficulty in breaking down Donegal’s packed defence, they should have been further ahead given the amount of possession they enjoyed.
Donegal struggled in the opening quarter to get their game going and they only had their first shot on goal on 17 minutes courtesy of Ciaran Thompson - which dropped short into the keeper’s arms - and Cian Mulligan posted their first wide two minutes later.
Conor Doherty replaced Nathan Gavigan and Michael Carroll joined Caolan McGonagle in the middle of the field.
And all of a sudden Donegal were a different side. Carroll kicked a fine point on 20 minutes after a penetrating run from Eoghan ‘Bán’ Gallagher and the locals were up and running shortly after when Carroll knocked over a second.
With Donegal now dominating and Mayo back pedalling, Ciaran Thompson tied up the game 0-3 each on 27 minutes.
Two late points from Lorcan Connor from a free and Conor Doherty to one from Boland saw Donegal go in 0-5 to 0-4 up at half-time having to face into the wind in the second half.
Ronan Carolan and Andrew McClean traded white flags early in the second half before Lady Luck shone on Donegal when a Stephen McBrearty 40 metre free dropped short but went through the hands of Mayo wing-back Barry Duffy on his own goal line into the net.
That was on 36 minutes and Donegal led 1-6 to 0-5. Further points from Carroll - after good approach play from Thompson and McBrearty - and a long range McBrearty free saw Donegal race into a 1-8 to 0-5 lead by the end of the third quarter.
With both sides running their bench, Colm Reape kicked Mayo’s second point of the half when he converted from 35 metres.
But with 12 minutes remaining Donegal were still five in front. However, Mayo had far from given up.
Liam Irwin, seconds after being sprung from the bench, converted from close range to make it a four point game.
And seconds later Danny Rodgers was plucking the ball out of the net after Irwin, from a tight angle, had blasted past the Dungloe 'keeper for as good a goal as seen in O’Donnell Park for a long time.
All of a sudden the margin was back to one with a little over three minutes of normal time to play. And when Boland levelled it 60 seconds later the momentum was with the visitors.
In a frantic closing five minutes Boland and Caolan McGonagle posted wides before Ciaran Thompson, from way out on the left hand side and just inside the 20 metre line, curled over the winner in the first minute of injury time.
Donegal: Danny Rodgers; Jack Scally, Bruce Waldron, Ciaran Gillespie; Eamon McGrath, Conor O’Donnell, Cian Mulligan; Nathan Gavigan, Caolan McGonagle; Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher, Aodhan McGinley, Michael Carroll (0-3); Lorcan Connor (0-1,f), Ciaran Thompson (0-2), Stephen McBrearty (1-1,0-1f). Subs: Conor Doherty (0-1) for N Gavigan (20); Andrew McClean (0-1) for C O’Donnell (h/t); Adam Neilly for L Connor (49); Christian Bonner for A McGinley (49); Mark Coyle for Conor Doherty (55, inj).
Mayo: Scott Kilkerr; Eoin O’Donoghue, David Kenny, Ciaran Harrison; Barry Duffy, Michael Hall, Michael Plunkett; Mikey Murray (0-1), Val Roughneen; Fergal Boland (0-3), Brian Reape, James Lyons; Morgan Lyons, Colm Reape (0-2,1f), James Carr. Subs: Ronan Carolan (0-1) for J Carr (21,inj); Jason Kelly for M Hall (h/t); Liam Irwin (1-1) for C Barrett; Ryan Lynch for M Murray (both 53); T J Beirne for J Lyons (58).
Referee: Simon Foley (Leitrim)