Donegal .... 0-13
THE introduction of Aidan O’Shea, and Donegal losing corner-back, Cormac Doherty to a straight red card, were two major turning points in helping Mayo retain their Division One status following a feisty final round of the National Football League.
Elverys MacHale Park, which drew a crowd of over 15,000 on a bright but windy afternoon, finally came to life when Mayo decided they wanted to remain in top flight football for another season.
But it took them a long time to make up their mind as Donegal led them a merry dance and were worthy three point leaders at half-time - 0-11 to 1-5.
That scoreline might well have looked a lot barer had Mayo not been handed a soft penalty by controversial referee, Cormac Reilly, who came very close to losing control of a game which became vicious, if not extremely violent, at it turned for home with a number of ugly skirmishes breaking out.
Cillian O’Connor, who had a mixed bag of a day, fired home from the penalty-spot to erase an early two-point Donegal lead, but it was Donegal who ran the show in that first half as Mayo returned to their old bad habits of inviting Donegal on to them instead of running at their opponents.
An early point in the second half from Lee Keegan was blotted out by a fine score from Cian Mulligan but an inspirational point from Keith Higgins after a meandering run, on a day when Mayo’s defence scored 0-4, seemed to breathe new life into Mayo and that coincided with the introduction of Aiden O’Shea.
Shortly afterwards the major turning point came on 57 minutes when O’Shea, whose sheer bulk and strength caused Donegal no end of problems, was fouled and a moment later, went down after Eamon Doherty seemed to kick him while he was on the ground.
After consulting with his umpires the referee flashed the Donegal man a straight red and Mayo now smelt blood and went chasing their quarry.
With the crowd behind them and Cillian O’Connor beginning to find his range after one or two poor attempts from frees, the momentum now swung with the home side.
Back-to-back frees from O’Connor reduced the gap to a point before a brilliant point from Keegan - his second of the game - squared it at 1-10 to 0-13.
It was hectic stuff in those closing minutes as Donegal chased a win which would put them into the final against Dublin, while Mayo, unaware possibly that Roscommon had already bailed them out by beating Cavan, could not take any chance on contemplating anything other than a win.
The points which keeps them up for another season were secured by two late frees, both from the boot of the team captain O’Connor, on a day when Mayo, as they had done in Omagh, played poorly for long periods, but deserve credit for digging themselves out of what was a very deep hole at one stage.
Mayo: D. Clarke, B. Harrison, K. Higgins (0-1), C. Barrett, C. Boyle (0-1), L. Keegan (0-2), P. Durcan, T. Parsons, D. Kirby (0-1), S. Nally (0-1), C. O’Connor (1-5, 3f, 1 ’45, pen) F. Boland, K. McLoughlin, A. Moran (0-1), D. Drake.
Subs used: D. O’Connor for (HT), S. Coen for Boyle (HT), A. O’Shea for Kirby (45), J. Doherty for A. Moran, D. Vaughan for Drake (62), C. O’Shea for Nally (68).
Donegal: M. A. McGinley, P. McGrath, N.McGee, E. Doherty, E. Ban Gallagher (0-1), C. Gillespie, M. McCarron (0-1), J. McGee, C. Thompson (0-2), F. McGlynn (0-1), M. O’Reilly (0-1), C. Mulligan (0-3), J. Brennan, M. Murphy (0-4, 3f, 1 ’45), H. McFadden.
Subs used: K. Lacey for Gillespie (10), E. McHugh for McFadden (50) P. McBrearty for J. McGee (54), M. McHugh for McCarron (60), M. McElhiney for McGrath (67).
Referee: C. Reilly (Meath).