Relegated Donegal left to rue McBrearty miss as Kevin McLoughlin saves Mayo at the death
Allianz National Football League: Donegal 0-13 Mayo 0-13
DONEGAL may have extended their unbeaten run in Ballybofey to 20 games, but there was nothing to celebrate yesterday as Declan Bonner's men slipped out of Division One when Kevin McLoughlin's dramatic late leveller saved Mayo's bacon.
Four minutes of added time flashed up at the end of 70 with Donegal ahead by two, but heartbreak was just around the corner.
A free from the excellent Conor Loftus cut the gap to the minimum as tensions rose before, with 73 minutes and 40 seconds on the clock, McLoughlin dropped the ball between the posts from 30 metres.
That kick snatched a draw for Mayo, and was enough to ensure their 20 years in the top flight would stretch into another.
Stephen Rochford admitted there was “a big sigh of relief” at the end, but said there was never a sense of panic even when they trailed by three heading into the final five minutes.
“There was always a goal option,” said Rochford, who revealed that 2016 player of the year Lee Keegan would be out for “three or four months” after suffering a shoulder dislocation against Tyrone.
“There was also the chance Donegal would see out the game conservatively and we could play on the front foot.
“Last week's game against Tyrone was an outlier to us. Tyrone were really impressive but I thought we assisted that in some of our decision-making and our use of the ball.
“I don't think we nailed it perfectly today but there was an improvement.”
Unfortunately for Paddy McBrearty, it was an afternoon when he went from hero to villain in the space of a half's football.
The Kilcar ace – a surprise selection following his seemingly miraculous recovery from the quad injury which had previously seen Bonner rule him out until Championship – was on fire at the end of the opening 35, using the wind to send over two outrageous scores and a class free.
But his lack of minutes in recent weeks told as the clock kicked down.
With Donegal looking to close out the game, he held onto the ball too long before sending a tame effort into David Clarke's waiting arms.
Less than a minute later, the travelling support were celebrating wildly when McLoughlin made no such mistake at the other end – another indication, as if it were even needed at this stage, that this Mayo team is never dead.
“It is disappointing but you have to take your chances,” said Bonner, who made a beeline for referee Anthony Nolan straight after the final whistle, unhappy with added time allowed.
“We had chances at the end and we didn't take them. It can be a cruel game at times. We didn't get the rub of the green and we didn't convert those chances late on which would have seen us through.”
“We're not going to be laying the finger of blame on anyone,” he added when asked about the McBrearty effort that dropped short. “It is a squad effort and we are all in it together.”
And, despite suffering relegation, Bonner has plenty of positives to take from the game – most notably the performances of captain Michael Murphy, his best of the campaign, Ciaran Thompson and the excellent Eoghan Ban Gallagher.
Mayo too, for all the talk of flogging the same old horses, weren't driven to a draw by Andy Moran or Aidan O'Shea, but youngsters Eoin O'Donoghue and Loftus who – in the absence of the injured Cillian O'Connor – stood up impressively, finishing with six points.
The westerners moved on from their Red Hand horror show to race into a four point lead after 11 minutes – but that Moran score turned out to be their last for 20 minutes as Donegal came roaring back to lead 0-8 to 0-5 with half an hour gone.
Murphy was instrumental, dominating at midfield, but it was those scores from McBrearty – one from under the stand, the other just inside the 45 – that brought Ballybofey to life.
And Donegal managed to keep Mayo at arm's length after the break too, a spurned Tom Parsons goal chance and some clever scores from Jamie Brennan helping them maintain their three-point lead.
Loftus scored one of the points of the day to cut that to two temporarily, running onto a neat Aidan O'Shea lay-off before, without breaking stride, sending a rocket over the black spot.
With five minutes left a Loftus free led to the day's loudest chorus of ‘Mayo… Mayo… Mayo' as the visitors sensed another escape act to better those of the last two years when they have also headed into the last day flirting with relegation.
And when McBrearty's shot fell short, the men in green and red displayed the cool, calm precision that has led them to four of the last six All-Ireland finals, McLoughlin the man with the ice in his veins at the last.
Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher (0-2); P Brennan, L McLoone, F McGlynn (0-1); M Murphy (0-2, 0-1 free), H McFadden; C Thompson (0-1), O Mac Niallais (0-1), N O'Donnell; E Doherty, J Brennan (0-2), P McBrearty (0-4, 0-1 free). Subs: M McHugh for O'Donnell (46), C Morrison for McGrath (58), S McBrearty for Thompson (58), C Ward for McGee (61), C Mulligan for J Brennan (68)
Yellow cards: N O'Donnell (34), H McFadden (35), E Ban Gallagher (70+5)
Mayo: D Clarke; C Crowe, D Drake, E O'Donoghue (0-1); C Boyle, S Coen, P Durcan; S O'Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin (0-2), A O'Shea, D O'Connor; J Doherty (0-1), A Moran (0-3), C Loftus (0-6, 0-5 frees). Subs: M Hall for Drake (63), F Boland for S O'Shea (65), B Moran for Parsons (68), A Freeman for Doherty (70)
Yellow cards: C Boyle (16), A Moran (39), J Doherty (50), T Parsons (54), P Durcan (70+5)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)