Mighty Quinn seals the win
MAYO left it late but ultimately saw off Donegal by a single point to reach the North West Cup final, in which they will face Sligo.
The winner, scored by substitute Kevin Quinn, resulted from Mayo's best move of the day, started from deep by another sub, Cathal Hennelly, and worked incisively forward into Quinn on the right, who slotted it confidently over the bar to make it 1-12 to 1-11.
It completed a remarkable turnaround for Mayo in James Stephens Park, Ballina, where the hosts at one stage trailed their visitors by six points.
The game turned decisively in Mayo's favour when Donegal's Colm Kelly was sent off on a second yellow card 12 minutes into the second half. That, combined with a few astute Mayo replacements, saw the game swing towards the home side.
Lorcan Connor's free a minute after the sending off gave his side a 1-11 to 1-06 lead, but it proved to be Donegal's final score of the game.
Slowly but surely Mayo reeled them in, Quinn instigating the comeback with a lovely effort before the very impressive Ryan O'Donoghue nailed two either side of a 13-metre free by James Carr. Another Carr free had Mayo level with five minutes to play, time enough for Quinn to score the winner and the home side to withstand, with relative ease, whatever late pressure Donegal could muster.
What would have worried the Mayo management was that at 15 v 15, Donegal were able to cut through a sometimes porous green and red rearguard. Their goal, finished to the net by wing-back Ciaran Diver, came from one such impressive move in 21st minute, not long after Eoin O'Donoghue had made a fantastic block on his own goal-line to deny Daniel Clarke.
Mayo had to work harder, by and large, for their scores, and their goal was a sublime solo effort by Carr, who won a breaking ball on his own 45 and powered towards goal before planting the ball accurately past Donegal 'keeper Paddy Byrne.
That score levelled the game at 1-4 each, but Donegal took control in the final few minutes of the first half as Niall O'Donnell scored three superb points in a row before Connor slotted a free to meake it a four-point lead – 1-08 to 1-04 – for the visitors at half-time.
O'Donnell scored the first point of the second half as well and when John Campbell added another to make it 1-10 to 1-04, it looked ominous for Mayo. It looked scarcely any better when Fionan Duffy put a penalty over rather than under the bar, but the game changed utterly on the sending off. T.J. Byrne and Connor swapped scores immediately after, but from that stage on the game belonged to Mayo, for whom Jason Forkan, Sean Conlon and half-time substitute James Kelly played major parts.
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, 2f), J. Lyons (0-1), T.J. Byrne (0-1), J. Carr (1-2, 2f), F. Duffy (0-1, pen).
Subs used: J. Kelly, K. Quinn (0-2), R. O'Donoghue (0-2), C. Hennelly.
Donegal: P. Byrne (0-1f), 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, 4f), J. Campbell (0-1), D. Black.
Subs used: D. Ó Baoill, S. Graham, C. Doherty, D. Gallagher, A. Neely, G. McBride.
Ref: B. Judge (Sligo).