The same as it ever was? Mayo go to Croke Park in late September and come away empty handed. Not quite this time. Yes, Mayo are not home with Sam Maguire, sitting pretty on the dashboard of the coach as they cross the border back home tomorrow evening. They will be left to think what might have been and to lick their wounds and come back again next year. But unlike days like 2004 and 2006, they never bowed their knee or wilted in when the pressure came on. They stood up, puffed their chests out and fought tooth and nail until the very final whistle was blown and they can be proud of their efforts. This Mayo side doesn't do excuses. Their leaders don't allow that. It could have been easy for James Horan to walk into the post match press conference and lament the fact that Mayo didn't get what looked like a 'stone walled' free 14 yards from the Donegal goal in the build up to Donegal's second and crucial goal. But he didn't. He acknowledged the fact he thought it was a free but moved on and pointed out that it was an Mayo error a few seconds later that let in Colm McFadden to put the ball low past David Clarke for Donegal's second goal of the afternoon, with only ten minutes gone on the clock. It could have been 2006 all over again but it wasn't Mayo dug, in and battled manfully back into the contest and refused to let Donegal have it all their own way. Mayo's battling spirit was exemplified by Kevin Keane in the second half. The young Westport corner back, had a nightmare start to his first All Ireland senior final, with Michael Murphy swatting him aside before Donegal's first goal and then spilling the ball into McFadden's path for the second. But rather than let those moments define him, he took them on the chin and came back fighting.
Mayo couldn't have got off to a worse start, Donegal had 2-1 on the boards before Mayo managed to raise a single white flag. Murphy rattled the back of the net three minutes in when Karl Lacey pinged in pass to the Donegal captain who had isolated himself with only Kevin Keane for company 20 yards out. Murphy showed his strength and finesse all in one movement, holding off Keane before applying a supreme finish past David Clarke. McFadden added a point from a free three minutes later as Donegal went for the jugular from the off. McFadden's goal came after Cillian O'Connor looked to have been fouled down near the Donegal goals, only for referee Maurice Deegan to blow for a free the other way. The ball was worked down the park at pace and ended up with Patrick McBrearty hitting a shot that came back off the post into the arms of Kevin Keane. Keane spilled the ball as he tried to control it and into McFadden's path and he put it low past Clarke to put Donegal into dream land with only ten minutes gone.
Mayo fought back with Kevin McLoughlin leading the charge from the half forward line and Michael Conroy offering a himself tirelessly as an outlet in the full forward line. McLoughlin sparked the fight back with a great effort off the outside of his book, before Cillian O'Connor go in on the act from frees. Conroy got a great score from the Cusack Stand side of the field and Enda Varley finished a neat snap shot to leave the score 2-4 to 0-7 at the break.
Mayo needed to get out of the blocks early in the second half and try and pull themselves in front of Donegal. But it was the Ulster champions who struck first with McFadden pointing a free a minute into the second half O'Connor and Frank McGlynn swapped points and the game was their for the taking. Donegal deserved their lead, but Mayo had battled well back into it. But instead of hitting a run of points, Mayo hit a run of wides with Varley, Moran and Conroy all skewing efforts off target in a short space of time. It allowed Donegal to stretch the gap out to five points through a Murphy free and keep Mayo that to bit too far away and always looking like they would need a goal to get really get back into the shake up. It never came, Mayo kept chipping away and put on some scores from the likes of Lee Keegan, Jason Gibbons and Richie Feeney. But it was never enough as Donegal were just able to respond and keep their noses in front. When Mayo did get a goal chance, it fell to Seamus O'Shea right at the death only a few minutes after coming on. But he wasn't able to finish it as he slipped at the vital moment.
Once again it wasn't to be. But, there is no need for a root and branch reform of this team. Some tweaks here and there for sure. This is a Mayo team still learning. Learning about themselves as individuals and as a team. They are a team and they will be back. That's the one thing about Mayo football and Mayo people. We will take the knocks like no others and always come back again for more, because someday, some September, it'll all have to come right, eventually.
Donegal scorers: M Murphy (0-03f ), C McFadden (0-03f ) 1-04 each, R Bradley, N Gallagher, F McGlynn 0-1 each.
Mayo scorers: C O’Connor 0-05 (5f ), E Varley (1f ), K McLoughlin 0-02 each, L Keegan, M Conroy, R Feeney, J Gibbons 0-01 each.
Donegal: P Durcan, P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn, E McGee, K Lacey, A Thompson, N Gallagher, R Kavanagh, R Bradley, L McLoone, M McHugh, P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden. Subs: D Walsh for Bradley, M McElhinney for McBrearty, C Toye for McLoone
Mayo: D Clarke, K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins, L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle, B Moran, A O'Shea, K McLoughlin, J Doherty, A Dillon, E Varley, C O'Connor, M Conroy.
Subs: A Freeman for Doherty, J Gibbons for Conroy, R Feeney for Varley, S O’Shea for Moran
Referee: M Deegan (Laois )