This one will live long in the memory for the thousands of Mayo fans who made the trek to Croke Park. Days like this are to be savored and enjoyed and talked about in the dim light of winter, when the business has been taken care of. There was nothing won today, but a place in the All Ireland semi-final and James Horan and his men are around long enough to know that and their appetite won't be quenched until Sam Maguire is crossing the Shannon safe in their embrace.
There was talk of Mayo being potentially undercooked going into this game after their waltz through Connacht, but there was nothing raw about their performance, bar the energy, hunger and sheer desire to win every single battle on the field.
No man epitiomised that more than Aidan O'Shea who took the game by the scruff of the neck from the first minute and never let his intensity levels drop right until the the minute he walked off the field to a standing ovation from the Mayo faithful after picking up a late second yellow card. He dominated the middle third, where he was more than ably assisted by his brother. But it was the younger brother who still towered above a number of Mayo men who became giants on that famous green field. You couldn't find fault with any of the men in green and red who took to the field on Sunday, right from Robbie Hennelly in goal who pulled off a smart save from Patrick McBrearty late on and looked safe under the high ball, through to Kevin Keane, Mayo's last sub who got his own bit of redemption for last years final, kicking an impressive score from the Cusack Stand side of the field.
Mayo couldn't have asked for a better start than they got, going 1-3 to 0-0 up inside the first six minutes. Alan Dillon belied any notions that he's not up to pace yet this season, with a performance that showcased all the talents and abilities that have seen him pick up two All Stars and will see him go down as one of the best players to ever wear the green and red. Cillian O'Connor kicked things off with a point inside a minute, Alan Dillon followed it with another fine score that was started by O'Shea pulling the ball out of the sky and winning a free. With five minutes on the clock, Mayo landed their first sucker punch, which came about from pure hard work. Keith Higgins hit a shot off target that O'Connor forced the Donegal defender to contest on the end-line, he forced the turn over to Kevin McLoughlin who then showed a soft pair of hands to feed it back to O'Connor who calmly placed the ball low past Paul Durcan and Mayo were off and running. Donegal did hit back with the next three scores from two Michael Murphy free's and Mark McHugh point, the Cill Charta man a late addition to the team, having not even been listed on the program for the day.
But Mayo were in no mood to let the All Ireland champions back into the contest and 13 minutes in they had their second goal of the day. A Mayo kick out looked to have been won by the Donegal midfield, but the ball was stripped away by Mayo, with Keith Higgins appearing with the ball and feeding it into Donal Vaughan who was breaking right through the heart of the Donegal defence, the Ballinrobe ma was able to get to the ball just ahead of Durcan who he then rounded and finished to an empty net, to set Mayo fans into delirium, before even a quarter of an hour had gone. Mayo kept poring forward and Dillon, McLoughlin and Andy Moran all added on points before the half hour mark. Such was Alan Dillon in particular dominances in the half-forward line, Karl Lacey was summoned from the bench after only 23 minutes as Anthony Thompson was called ashore. Tom Cunniffe was forced off himself nine minutes before the break due to a hamstring injury, with Cathal Carolan replacing him and Keith Higgins dropping back to the defence. But it didn't knock a jot out of the Mayo machine, as Alan Freeman kicked his second point, Cillian O'Connor kicked two placed balls over the bar and Colm Boyle got in on the act all before the break, leaving Mayo leading by 2-10 to 0-4 at the break. Mayo could have had a third goal, before the break when Cathal Carolan found himself breaking through the defence and despite loosing control of the ball from his hands getting a shot off that came back of Durcan's right hand post. Kevin McLoughlin scooped the follow up wide, but Mayo were as good as home and hosed by the time Joe McQuillan blew the half time whistle.
The only big question at half-time was would Mayo keep the foot down in the second half, and that's exactly what they did. By the time Donegal got their fifth point of the game after 47 minutes, Mayo had added another 2-2 to their total, with Seamus O'Shea bending over a point his performance deserved and O'Connor completing his second hat-trick in as many games and tacking on another point. The double young player of the year for his second goal, finished off a move that was started by a turnover by Kevin McLoughlin in his own half. The ball was worked to Vaughan who selflessly hand passed it over to O'Connor who applied the finish and there was still 30 minutes to go. Four minutes later Andy Moran was the provider for O'Connor as Mayo kept their foot to the floor, looking to punishing Donegal at every opportunity. Mayo could have had another goal, in between O'Connors final two, but Lee Keegan's effort was well saved by Durcan. It was time for James Horan to run the bench and rest some of his men who have come back from injury and Dillon, O'Connor and Moran all left the action to thunderous applause. The Mayo scores kept coming with Enda Varley, Chris Barrett, Kevin Keane and Chris Barrett all becoming one of the 13 Mayo players who scored on the day. Donegal played out the final 20 minutes after Eamon McGee was shown a straight red for an off the ball incident, they did manage to kick a goal late on from Colm McFadden but even that couldn't take the gloss off the Mayo performance, where for the third year in a row they ended the defending All Ireland champions interest in the competition. James Horan got his match ups right and the work being done on the training field by the likes of Donie Buckley and Ed Coughlan with this group of players were all key ingredients in this win. But it's only game four of six, that they are looking to win.
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy 0-5 (0-4f ), C McFadden 1-0, M McHugh 0-2, David Walsh 0-1, M McHugh 0-1, K Lacey 0-1.
Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor 3-4 (0-2f, 0-1 45 ), D Vaughan 1-0, A Dillon 0-2, A Freeman 0-2, C Boyle 0-1, A Moran 0-1, K McLoughlin 0-1, L Keegan 0-1, S O’Shea 0-1, K Keane 0-1, E Varley 0-1, C Barrett 0-1, R Feeney 0-1.
Donegal: P Durcan, P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee, F McGlynn, K Lacey, A Thompson, N Gallagher, R Kavanagh, R Bradley, R McHugh, David Walsh, P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden. Subs: K Lacey for A Thompson (23 ), D Walsh for R Bradley (HT ), M McElhinney for N McGee (HT ), L McLoone for R Kavanagh (44 ), M Boyle for P McGrath (60 ).
Mayo: R Hennelly, T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins, L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle, A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, R Feeney, A Dillon; C O'Connor, A Freeman, A Moran. Subs: C Carolan for T Cunniffe (27 ), R Feeney for A Dillon (47 ), E Varley for A Moran (49 ), D Coen for C O’Connor (54 ), K Keane for C Boyle (58 ).