Donegal hit hard by excellent Mayo and left with little hope of avoiding the drop
Allianz Football League Division One, round six: Donegal 0-9 Mayo 1-17
Hit and hope was the story for Donegal – but they appear to have taken too many hits and have very little hope of avoiding relegation.
Mayo registered their first ever League win in the Tir Chonaill county, at the 10th attempt, but did so in some style, by 11 points, a margin that might have been even wider.
That means only an improbable combination of results can save Paddy Carr’s side from the drop, requiring them, Armagh, and Monaghan all to finish on five points next weekend.
Donegal will need to win by 14 points in Roscommon to redress their -29 scoring difference to better than Monaghan’s -16, and also hope that Tyrone can inflict an even heavier defeat on Armagh, who are on just minus one.
Oh, and Monaghan must draw – not win, nor lose – away to table-toppers Mayo.
Realistically, Donegal are down – and on this display it’s not difficult to see why.
Manager Carr admitted to being “deeply disappointed” that “heads went down” after Mayo’s Ryan O’Donoughue netted the only goal of the game very early in the second half, to stretch their interval advantage to eight points, 1-11 to 0-6.
“The game was alive coming into half-time and we felt that we were in a good enough place at half-time. When Mayo got the goal, the fight seemed to go out of our lads. That is a worry. There is no getting away from that. Heads went down and that's not what lads are sent out to do.
“Momentum goes one way or the other and confidence is linked to that. Lads will be disappointed because they know that they're better than that. Lads tend to go into their shell somewhat, but we have to pick ourselves up and go to Roscommon and then get ready for the Championship.”
Even before the Mayo goal it was clear that Donegal needed a major score themselves if they were to rescue anything from this match against a very well-organised visiting side.
Yet the home tactics were very limited, appearing to be ‘hit and hope’.
Hit and hope from goalkeeper Shaun Patton, a player previously renowned for his laser-guided launches towards team-mates; the lack of movement in front of him meant a poor return on his kick-outs.
On the occasions when Donegal did get the ball the strategy was often ‘hit and hope’ again, kicking long towards Hugh McFadden, re-deployed this season as a target man inside.
Donegal certainly could benefit from mixing it up, adding to their traditional running, hand-passing game, and the Killybegs man won some possession, but there were too few players buzzing around in support of him, with Jamie Brennan managing only one point, immediately before being substituted.
In that area Donegal were deficient too. Whereas Mayo were able to bring players of the quality and experience of Tommy Conroy, Kevin McLoughlin, and Padraig O’Hora, Donegal were sending on young prospects.
The starting home side was closer to full strength, albeit bearing in mind the continued absences of skipper Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh. Ciaran Thompson and Brendan McCole started instead of Jeaic McKelvey and Stephen McMenamin, and Peadar Mogan was an even later, unannounced, change for Donegal, coming in for full-forward Oisin Gallen but playing in a deeper role.
Eoaghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher’s strong run and point got the hosts off to a fine start, but Mayo soon began to dominate.
Their centre half-forward Jack Carney was getting a lot of ball, and using it well, with Fionn McDonagh also effective in the opening quarter, denied a goal by a sharp save from Shaun Patton – but his opposite number, Colm Reape, converted the ‘45’.
Donegal couldn’t contain Mayo midfielder Matthew Ruane either, and with Aidan O’Shea getting on the scoresheet the visitors seemed well on top.
Two quick placed ball conversions from Thompson did draw Donegal level by the midway mark of the half, but that was only false hope for them.
Mayo reeled off six of the next seven scores, finding far too much room in the Donegal defence, and held a five-point half-time advantage, 0-11 to 0-6.
Donegal needed a bright beginning to the second period but instead it was Mayo who sparkled, and they soon sent O’Donoghue in from the left, into so much room that even his scuffed shot was enough to beat Patton.
After that it was a procession to victory for the visitors, enlivened only by roars from the large Mayo support as first Conroy, then McLoughlin came on and again when the latter raced through, setting up O’Donoghue for another score.
With O’Shea posing serious problems inside with his power, Mayo strolled to victory, adding the final three points to take their winning margin into double figures.
Mayo manager McStay was quite rightly thrilled with his side’s display, and that it took them into the League final:
“We were in a good place at half-time and the goal at the start of the second half set us on our way. We’re delighted to be in the league final and we’ll be giving it our best shot.
“At half-time the message was to keep doing what we were doing. There was no need to get swanky but it was excellent how we got there. The conditions were heavy but it was just a matter of getting the ball and giving it to a fella with the same coloured jersey. That would do just fine.
“Donegal are a Division One team with a lot of very good footballers. We paid them the ultimate respect with very good preparation. We got the bounce and the few scores to get ahead and drove it on as much as we could."
In complete contrast, Carr accepted that Donegal have to turn themselves around, first away to Roscommon, then in Newry to face Down in the Ulster SFC: “We are totally dependent on something that is very unlikely to happen. This day next week, there will be nothing in it until the Championship. We have to raise the hearts and the spirits. That is going to be very challenging.
“There is no hiding behind that. Spirit and heart are such fundamental things in a team. Collectively, we went into a shell there. We will have to be a different beast for the Championship.”
Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, C Ward, C McColgan; C Thompson (0-3, 0-2 frees), B McCole, E Gallagher (0-1); C McGonagle, J McGee; M Langan (0-3, 0-2 frees), P Mogan, D O Baoill, C O’Donnell; H McFadden, J Brennan (0-1).
Substitutes: O Gallen (0-1) for McColgan (h-t); J McKelvey for Mogan (43); R O’Donnell for Thompson (53); J Bradley Walsh for Brennan (60); K Barrett for Gallen (63, inj.).
Mayo: C Reape (0-1 ‘45’); J Coyne, D McBrien, S Callinan; P Durcan (0-2), C Loftus, S Coen; M Ruane (0-3), D O’Connor; F McDonagh, J Carney (0-1), J Flynn (0-2); A O’Shea (0-4, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free), J Carr, R O’Donoghue (1-3, 0-1 free).
Substitutes: T Conroy for Carr (46); K McLoughlin for McDonagh (53); P O’Hora for Coyne (62); P Towey (0-1) for D O’Connor (69); B Tuohy for O’Donoghue (69).
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).