Donegal maintained their good start to the new season with a third straight win in yesterday’s victory over Mayo in Sean MacCumhaill Park.
Donegal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-14
Mayo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-12
Just two points separated the sides at the finish in a cracking game played on a beautiful dry crisp day and before one of the biggest crowds seen in Ballybofey for many’s the long year.
The official attendance was given as 11,000 and the large Donegal support went home happy after seeing their favourites with the two precious league points after been put to the pin of their collar by the Connacht champions.
This was a most encouraging performance against a top side after their facile wins over Down and Cork in the opening two games. The win moves Donegal to six points and almost virtually assured of their top flight status again next year.
Mayo, who lost their opening two games but had not lost to Donegal since the 2012 All-Ireland final, came to Ballybofey intent on of maintaining their recent good record against their opponents.
They certainly began with great intent and really pinned Donegal back in their own half early on and had three points to Donegal’s one on the board inside eight minutes.
Evan Regan punished Donegal with two early close-in frees following fouls on Kevin McLoughlin and Aidan O’Shea.
McLoughlin was one of two changes Mayo made from the team announced earlier in the week. He replaced Jason Doherty in the attack. The other Mayo change saw All-Ireland minor winner, Michael Hall, replace Mickey Sweeney at corner-forward.
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher also made two changes from the team in the programme. Rory Kavanagh made his first start since the 2014 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry.
The St Eunan’s man lined up at midfield alongside Michael Murphy.
Kavanagh replaced Anthony Thompson. Gaoth Dobhair teenager Michael Carroll was the other Donegal alteration, replacing the injured Ciaran Thompson in the half-foward line.
Odhran MacNiallais, playing in an advanced role, opened Donegal’s account seven minutes into the game.
But with Mayo continuing to dominate around the middle of the park, especially in broken play, Aidan O’Shea landed Mayo’s third point from way out on the left for a super score.
Michael Murphy responded for Donegal with the first of his five for the afternoon before Shane Nally, who exploited an opening on the right side of the Donegal defence, edged Mayo into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead by the end of the first quarter hour.
But skipper Murphy and Kavanagh responded with Kavanagh’s 20 minute strike tieing up the game for the first time.
Martin McElhinney replaced Michael Carroll and with his first touch the St. Michael’s man blazed wide with only Robert Hennelly to beat after being sent through by superb cross field pass from Ryan McHugh.
The sides were level three times in the closing action packed ten minutes with Hennelly, and McBrearty and Lee Keegan and Ryan McHugh and Regan and Murphy trading points, before Brendan Harrison edged Mayo ahead in injury time, 0-8 to 0-7.
Ryan McHugh, superb at wing back, tied up the game on 0-8 each inside 20 seconds of the restart..
Regan and McBrearty traded points before MacNiallais with a trade mark strike kicked Donegal into the lead for the first time to lead 0-10 to 0-9 by the 40th minute.
But Donegal were reeling five minutes later when Diarmaid O’Connor converted from the penalty spot after Regan was tripped by Peter Boyle.
The game got scrappy for a period. Neil Gallagher replaced Hugh McFadden after the Killybegs man had been booked. The big Glenswilly man only lasted a minute before he was black carded for a trip on a Mayo player.
Murphy steadied the Donegal ship with a ‘45’ to reduce the margin to two once more, 1-10 to 0-11. And with the intensity levels up a notch McBrearty from a 40 metre free made it a point game with a little over a quarter of an hour remaining.
And with Donegal back in the grove, the move of the match led to the Donegal goal. Anthony Thompson turned over Mayo just inside his own half before quickly transferring to Christy Toye, in the middle of the field. Toye carried before laying off to Kavanagh who in turn found the inrushing Leo McLoone, who carried and steadied before smashing past Hennelly for a super goal and the lead once more for Donegal.
Donegal leading 1-12 to 1-10 were not going to be caught as Murphy and McBrearty knocked over clinching points with Hennelly from a ‘45’ and Seamus O’Shea from play responding for the men from the west.
After a slow start and being under siege early one, Donegal regrouped well to deservedly win against a Mayo side that were up for a battle.
Donegal head to Kerry next weekend with full points from their three games and with an eye on a place in a league semi-final at least were much within their grasp
Donegal: P Boyle; E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath; R McHugh (0-2), F McGlynn, E Doherty; O MacNiallais (0-2), H McFadden; R Kavanagh (0-1), M Carroll, E McHugh; P McBrearty (0-4,3f), M Murphy (0-5,3f,45), M O'Reilly. Subs., M McElhinney for Carroll 18; A Thompson for E Doherty ht; N Gallagher for H McFadden 47; C Toye for Gallagher, bcard 49; Leo McLoone (1-0) for E McGee 51; Caolan Ward for M O’Reilly 69
Mayo: R Hennelly (0-2,f,45); B Harrison (0-1), G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan (0-1), C Boyle, S Nally (0-1); T Parsons, J Gibbons; D O'Connor (1-0, pen), A O'Shea (0-1), C O'Shea; E Regan (0-4,4f), K McLoughlin, M Hall. Subs., C Loftus (0-1) for Higgins 21); Andy Moran for E Regan 50; Donal Vaughan for S Nally 53; Seamus O’Shea (0-1) for Gibbons 63; Jason Doherty for D O’Connor 69.
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).