Donegal denied after James Durcan rescues point for Mayo in Ballybofey thriller

Donegal's Michael Murphy top-scored with eight points in Saturday night's League opener. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Donegal's Michael Murphy top-scored with eight points in Saturday night's League opener. Picture by Philip Walsh.

Allianz National Football League Division One: Donegal 0-19 Mayo 2-13

From Andy Watters at MacCumhaill Pairc, Ballybofey

RED, black, yellow… whatever it took. Donegal manager Declan Bonner would have preferred a cynical foul and a card for one of his defenders rather than the James Durcan piledriver that whistled into the top corner to rescue a draw for Mayo in a thrilling League opener in Ballybofey on Saturday night.

Donegal had been the dominant force throughout the game but a mixture of their poor first half shooting and the visitors’ doggedness meant it all boiled down to the drama in the eighth minute of added-on time (‘at least’ six minutes had been signalled).

“It’s very disappointing,” said Bonner afterwards.

“After Michael (Murphy) got that free in injury-time to put us three ahead I thought it was probably game over but you have to hand it to Mayo for coming back and getting a goal. We’re disappointed in terms of our defending for the last play but for the majority of the game I thought we were the better side. It’s disappointing but it’s a point on the board.”

Donegal had lost veterans including Neil McGee and Ryan McHugh in the closing stages and youngsters like Jack McKelvey, Conor Morrison and Andrew McClean were left to repel the late Mayo onslaught.

“We had up to five lads on debut on the field in the last 10 minutes and there was probably a lack of experience,” added Bonner.

When asked if one of his players should have taken Durcan down and risked being sent off, he replied: “Black, red, anything.

“From our point of view and from where I was on the sideline it was a case of taking whatever you got at that stage and seeing the game out."

Not for the first, or last, time this year, the referee’s time-keeping caused controversy and it seems only a matter of time before a stadium clocked is introduced. Bonner said referee David Coldrick had played on too long but Mayo manager James Horan saw things differently.

He felt the defending League champions deserved a draw.

“When you’re three points down, five minutes into injury-time and you get a goal you’ll take it,” he said.

“I thought we deserved it, I thought we stuck in well. I thought throughout the game Donegal got the rub off the green maybe from the ref but we hung in there, we kept plugging away and fighting hard. I think we got our reward in the end so I’m delighted with that.”

Moran’s men played second fiddle as Donegal created 24 scoring chances in the first half but took just nine of them. Jamie Brennan registered their first and last points in a half the home side dominated but their poor shooting meant they led by just two (0-9 to 1-4) at the break.

Mayo’s young forwards showed glimpses of real talent – James Carr’s goal was the score of the half - but they were out-numbered and out-muscled regularly by a Donegal defence that included fit again Eoghan Ban Gallagher and veteran Neil McGee.

After Brennan’s opener, Fergal Boland and Brian Reape scores had the visitors briefly ahead before two Murphy frees and a Paul Brennan point (from a Murphy assist) gave Donegal the lead again.

Goalkeeper Shaun Patton’s restarts were superb as was the pace and athleticism of the Donegal counters but the home side passed up three regulation scoring chances and then Carr grabbed Paddy Durcan’s long ball.

Without thinking of an advanced mark, he did the old-school, sensible thing by sticking the ball past Shaun Patton and into the Donegal net to send the westerners two ahead.

In a genuine top-flight battle, hits flew in around the middle of the field and Murphy bulldozed through a tackle before slipping the ball to Gallagher who was brought down to Tom Parsons. Ciaran Thompson converted the free left-footed and, after Michael Langan had become the latest Donegal player to drop short with a shot, Caolan McGonagle found time and space to level it.

Donegal surged ahead with scores from Murphy (mark), Thompson and Brennan but Boland held off Gallagher to leave just two in it at the interval.

Mayo beefed up their ranks with the introduction of Aidan O’Shea, Kevin McLoughlin and Tommy Conroy at the break and Conroy was soon on the scoresheet in between a couple of Murphy frees from Donegal.

A 45 from the Glenswilly colossus stretched the home side’s lead to four but the battling visitors stayed in touch thanks to three in-a-row from Diarmuid O’Connor, Brian Walsh and McLoughlin.

It was a ding-dong battle now and the sides traded blows with Donegal keeping their noses in front. The poor finishing of the first half was forgotten as Thompson, Langan, Ryan McHugh and the tireless Murphy all took points with McLoughlin, O’Connor and sub James Durcan (with his first touch) replying for Mayo.

However, when Donegal sub Andrew McClean marked his debut with a point to leave it 0-17 to 1-11 with time almost up, it seemed that the Tir Chonaill men had done enough.

But Mayo hadn’t given up. Jordan Flynn went to ground and referee Coldrick blew his whistle to award a free.

“Ach, he went down like a bag ’a spuds,” roared a nervy Donegal fan in the packed stand.

Durcan showed no nerves as he swept over the free and he did the same again to leave just a point in it well into injury-time.

Hugh McFadden was injured and, as he received treatment, the same Donegal fan changed his tune.

“Stay where you are boy, like there like a bag ‘a spuds,” he shouted, sparking roars of good-natured laughter.

Referee Coldrick had stopped his watch until McFadden was ready to resume but Thompson and Murphy scores relieved the nerves and, now three points up, Donegal looked home and hosed.

There was still time though. Young Durcan rode a tackle from Conor Morrison before he let fly from the edge of the square, Murphy tried to block but could only get fingertips to it and the ball whistled into the top corner.

A point gained for Mayo. A point lost for Donegal.

Donegal: S Patton; C Ward, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; O McFadden-Ferry, C O’Donnell, P Brennan (0-1); C McGonagle (0-1), M Langan (0-1); E McHugh, R McHugh (0-1), J Brennan (0-2); C Thompson (0-4, 0-3 frees), M Murphy (0-8, 0-9 frees, 0-1 mark, 0-1 45), P Morgan

Subs: H McFadden for McGonagle (47), B McCole for McFadden-Ferry (58), A McClean (0-1) for Brennan (61), C Morrison for R McHugh (63), J McKelvey for McGee (63)

Yellow cards: P Brennan (51), McGee (54)

Mayo: D Clarke; O Mullin, B Harrison, C Boyle; P O’Hora, S Coen, P Durcan; T Parsons, J Flynn; B Walsh (0-1), D O’Connor (0-2 frees), F Boland (0-2); R O’Donoghue, B Reape (0-2, 0-1 free), J Carr (1-0)

Subs: K McLoughlin (0-2 frees) for J Carr (HT), T Conroy (0-1) for Reape (HT), A O’Shea for Parsons (HT), K Higgins for Walsh (55), J Durcan (1-2, 0-2 frees) for Boland (65)

Yellow cards: B Reape (20)

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)

Attendance: 8,789