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Brave Derry exit All-Ireland SFC at hands of Mayo in Castlebar

Emmett McGuckin of Derry and Diarmuid O'Connor of Mayo tussle in Castlebar Picture by David Maher/Sportsfile

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifying round 2A: Mayo 2-21 Derry 1-13 (after extra-time)

SIX days after Down pulled off a huge upset by beating Monaghan, Derry almost emulated them, coming agonisingly close to eliminating last year’s All-Ireland finalists Mayo from this year’s Qualifying series.

Damian Barton had flagged the belief of this Derry team that they could go down to Castlebar and defeat last year’s All-Ireland finalists.

It was not empty talk and Derry led by two points late on – a gap that should have been three had Chrissie McKaigue scored from a very kickable position – and Mayo were on the ropes.

It appeared that every blow Mayo tried to land in the second half missed its target.

The reality was not too far removed from there. Despite dominating possession, Mayo would only score with six of their 23 shots in the second half.

Derry goalkeeper Ben McKinless made two big saves from Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran, while Moran also hit the crossbar.

It looked like it was not going to be Mayo’s day. Derry had countered well in the second half and, driven on by an impressive full-back line of Niall Keenan, Brendan Rogers and Karl McKaigue, they led 0-12 to 0-10 as the game entered its 67th minute.

Mayo had squandered chance after chance – kicking only 1/16 shots in the previous 27 minutes –before a point from Paddy Durcan settled them.

A cracking goal followed from substitute Conor Loftus and when the same player stroked over a point in the 70th minute, Mayo suddenly were three to the good.

Mayo fans thought their team had rode out the storm but they hadn’t reckoned on the self-belief Derry played with for long stages.

In the very next attack, Derry struck a goal of their own. Carlus McWilliams floated in a brilliant, inviting ball to the Mayo goal and substitute Mark Lynch rose between goalkeeper David Clarke and full-back Ger Cafferkey to flick to the net.

A frantic six minutes of injury-time ensued. Mayo had chances to win it but Cillian O’Connor hit the post and Seamie O’Shea fired wide.

Derry had a one shot at glory too but James Kielt’s free from a tricky position wide on the right dropped short.

Extra-time ensued and Mayo had too much in the tank for a flagging Derry team, outscoring them 1-9 to 0-1 for a scarcely believable 11-point final win.

Despite the final result, Barton’s belief in the build-up had been vindicated.

“Some Derry people were saying ‘all we need is a performance’. We didn’t want that, we wanted to win the game and I thought that was very evident and we could have won the game but as I say it is probably our most solid performance of the year,” he said.

Barton said Mayo’s squad depth was telling in extra-time, whilst feeling the final margin of 11 points was harsh. He conceded it was a game they needed to win in normal time.

“It was there [for them to win late in normal time]. James had a free from the sideline and dropped it short. Chrissie maybe had a chance before that and he kicked it wide. I would have put money on Chrissie on that side of the pitch but it is fine margins.

‘‘Another day they might go over but I think the boys have to take an awful lot from it.

‘‘Physically and emotionally they gave this a hell of a lash. We’re talking about a team (Mayo) that only the top teams over the last number of years have actually beaten,” Barton said.

Derry led at half-time by 0-8 to 0-7 and did not trail Mayo from the 10th minute until Loftus’s goal right on the 70-minute mark.

Their half-time lead would have been greater had David Clarke not saved Carlos McWilliams’ effort and the rebound went the right side of the post instead of going out for a ‘45.

They lost big midfielder Conor McAtamney to a black card for a unnecessary pull down of Tom Parsons right on half-time and Derry missed his aerial ability in the second half.

They struggled on their own kick-out throughout with too many of Ben McKinless’s short kicks being of the high-wire variety.

But saves from McKinless from O’Connor and Moran in the second half, who both seemed sure to score, were signs a shock was on the cards.

Every one of Mayo’s misses seemed to drain energy from them and frees from Niall Loughlin and James Kielt had Derry two to the good and looking like they might do it.

But Mayo escaped to extra-time and found their shooting boots. Jason Doherty’s 74th minute goal, profiting from another stray short kick-out from McKinless, ought to have been all she wrote.

Yet, as was their wont all evening, Mayo left the door open. They conceded a penalty and had Paddy Durcan sent off before half-time in extra-time.

But James Kielt saw his penalty well saved by Allstar goalkeeper David Clarke and Durcan’s sending off was not something a tired Derry side could capitalise on.

It could be costly for Mayo next weekend though against one of Clare, Donegal or Meath, with Durcan facing suspension from that game and injury worries surrounding Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor.

Both limped out in extra-time and while it is Derry who exit the Championship, there was nothing limp about the nature of their departure.

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford was accentuating the positives afterwards on a fraught evening for the westerners.

“They didn’t bow their heads when they were two points down going into that closing stages and they kicked numerous wides, there was a bit of nervousness there, a bit of frustration, not as much composure as we’d have liked to have seen but, man, when their backs are against the wall, they are a really, really tight bunch and I was really proud of the way they just kept coming at it and we kept creating chances,” he said.

Mayo: D Clarke, B Harrison, G Cafferkey, C Barrett, L Keegan (0-1), C Boyle, P Durcan (0-1), A O’Shea (0-1), T Parsons, D Vaughan, K McLoughlin (0-1), S Coen, F Boland, C O’Connor (0-12, 0-9f) A Moran (0-2)

Subs: D O’Connor (0-1) for Boland (ht), S O’Shea for Vaughan (55), J Doherty (1-1) for Coen (55), C Loftus (1-1) for Moran (58), D Drake for Harrison (64), C Crowe for Barrett (82), S Nally for Keegan (inj. 84), D Kirby for McLoughlin (87)

Derry: B McKinless, N Keenan, B Rogers, K McKaigue, C McFaul, C McWilliams, M McEvoy, C McKaigue, C McAtamney, B Heron (0-1), E Lynn, N Loughlin (0-6, 0-4f) D Tallon, D Heavron (0-1), R Bell (0-3)

Subs: E McGuckin for McAtamney (b/card 35), M Lynch (1-1) for Tallon (47), J Kielt (0-1f) for Bell (58), S McGuigan for Lynn (67), C Nevin for McEvoy (70), N Forrester for McFaul (75), G O’Neill for Loughlin (84), C Doherty for Heron (87)

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

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