Mayo fall at the final hurdle against Donegal
A gallant Mayo were beaten by Donegal in the Nicky Rackard Cup final this afternoon, the Ulster county winning on a scoreline of 3-18 to 0-21 in Croke Park.
On as glorious a day as November can produce – one brought forward from spring – Mayo produced some scintillating hurling early on but a driven Donegal team fought back with a brilliant second-half display to take the title.
Both teams came into the final on the back of three successive victories, Mayo beating Monaghan, Tyrone and Leitrim and Donegal accouting for Longford, Armagh and Tyrone.
Mayo's form, it could be argued, was slightly better – though that could only be said for the Nicky Rackard competition as Donegal had the better league campaign, securing promotion from Division 3A while Mayo were relegated from Division 2A (meaning they'll be facing each other in Division 2B next year).
Still, that was pre-Covid and since the resumption of the inter-county action, Mayo have been hurling well.
They got off to a blistering start today and were 0-11 to 0-3 ahead with 22 minutes on the clock, Shane Boland unerring from frees and chipping in with one from play as well, while Brian Morley (two), Jason Coyne and Eoin Delaney were on target too.
Donegal had struggled up to that point, finding little change from a Mayo defence in which Stephen Coyne stood imperious. Moving centre half-forward Danny Cullen back and giving Sean McViegh a sweeper role helped cut the supply going into the Mayo full-forward line.
And the game turned in the 10 minutes before half-time. Donegal scored four on the spin, three of them frees from Declan Coulter, and while Mayo replied with two in success from Adrian Phillips and Boland (free), the tonic the Ulster county needed arrived in the shape of a goal by wing-back Joe Boyle after great work by Gerard Gilmore.
That left just three points in it, and Donegal narrowed it to two when Danny Cullen split the posts, but Mayo had the final say as Sean Kenny nailed a 65' to leave them three ahead at the break on a scoreline of 0-14 to 1-8.
Donegal's upturn in fortunes continued into the second half but it was nip and tuck going into the final five minutes, Mayo leading by a point – 0-21 to 1-17 – and seemingly having recovered from a shaky patch earlier in the half.
But a physically strong Donegal turned the game completely on its head with two goals in the space of a minute, the first from the hugely impressive Davin Flynn and the second from first-half impact substitute Ritchie Ryan from Flynn's centre.
The assured Declan Coulter tacked on another point – his 10th of the game – to leave six between the team going into added time and try as they might, Mayo couldn't bread down a by now assured Donegal defence
In the end Mayo fell just a bit short as the day belonged to Donegal.
Mayo: Gerard Kelly; Gary Nolan, Stephen Coyne, John Cassidy; Brian Hunt, David Kenny, Cathal Freeman (0-2); Sean Regan (0-1), Sean Kenny (0-1); Adrian Phillips (0-1), Shane Boland (0-11), Corey Scahill (0-1); Jason Coyne (0-1), Brian Morley (0-2), Eoin Delaney (0-1). Subs used: Liam Lavin, Cormac Phillips, Daniel Huane.
Donegal: Luke White; Gavin Browne, Stephen Gillespie, Mark Callaghan; Joe Boyle (1-1), Sean McVeigh, Jack O'Loughlin; Michael Donaghue, Ronan McDermott (0-1); Gerard Gilmore (0-1), Danny Cullen (0-2), Kevin Kealy; Declan Coulter (0-10), Davin Flynn (1-3), Ciaran Mathewson. Subs used: Ritchie Ryan (1-0), Bernard Lafferty, Conor O'Grady.
*Pictured above, Brian Morley of Mayo in action against Stephen Gillespie of Donegal during the Nickey Rackard Cup final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile