Lee Keegan said that he “absolutely” meant to loop the ball over Paul Durcan’s head and into the top corner of the net three minutes into the second half. As soon as the green flag was raised by the umpires, Mayo were on their way to a fifth All Ireland semi-final in a row. That goal put seven points between the sides and it was a matter of seeing out the game from there on in.
There is still plenty for Mayo to mull over in the three weeks between now and they face Dublin in the final four. David Clarke strained his abuctor muscle saving from Colm McFadden just before the break and he wasn’t able to come back out for the second half. Tom Cunniffe had to go off injured with a hamstring strain three minutes before the break, Barry Moran who put in a top class shift in a new defensive role also had to go off injured, while Kevin Keane picked up a needless red card minutes after coming on in the dying embers of the clash. Mayo also failed to take a number of guilt edged chances in the second half that would have killed the contest stone dead. But there are still plenty of positives for them to take from this match. Before the game there were lots of questions about Mayo’s defensive abilities and the came with a plan and stuck to it and it worked. The late change of Barry Moran coming in for Andy Moran caught everyone by surprise, but the plan they worked on in training over the last few weeks worked to a tee, with Moran pushing up on both side kick-outs and dropping back alongside Colm Boyle covering the Mayo full-back line and nullifying the direct ball into Michael Murphy in the full-forward line.
Aidan O’Shea drifted in and out the full-forward position during the first half and while all the breaks didn’t go his way during it, when he got his chance just before the break, he won the ball and barrelled through two Donegal defenders and drove the ball low past Durcan for the key score of the game. That goal put Mayo four points to the good, rather than one and gave the scoreline a fairer reflection than it looked like it would have had a few seconds earlier.
Mayo had plenty of possession in the first half, but found it hard to make it count on the scoreboard going one and two points clear of Donegal at times, but still leaving the gap open for Rory Gallagher’s side to be within touching distance. With 29 minutes gone Kevin McLoughlin’s swinging effort put Mayo 0-7 to 0-4 up, but two frees from Murphy pinned Mayo back to a single score between the sides. Donegal’s sixth point came from a close in free from the Glenswilly man after David Clarke had been forced to pull off a close range save from McFadden after a lighting break from midfield. Clarke fouled the ball on the ground making the save but it was a much more opportune outcome than the alternative of the ball crashing to the net.
Keegan’s goal put Mayo well out in front and when Cillian O’Connor swung over a pointed free shortly after it, Mayo had the game wrapped up as the kept a seven and eight point lead in their back pocked for most of the rest of the half. The game lost it’s shape a bit with Mayo missing a few decent chances, but still held Donegal at bay with relative ease and the game concluded with Aidan O’Shea manning the full back position to make sure that Donegal didn't get in for the goal that could have sprung a surprise late fight back. A lot done and a lot more to do for Mayo over the next three weeks before the metropolitans come calling.
Mayo: Lee Keegan 1-2, Aidan O'Shea 1-0, Jason Doherty 0-3, Cillian O'Connor 0-3 (0-2f ), Kevin McLoughlin 0-2, Keith Higgins 0-1, A Freeman 0-1, A Moran 0-1.
Donegal: Michael Murphy 0-8 (0-5f ), Christy Toye 0-1, Leo McLoone 0-1, Anthony Thompson 0-1.
Mayo: David Clarke; Keith Higgins, Ger Cafferkey, Tom Cunniffe; Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle; Seamus O'Shea, Barry Moran; Diarmuid O'Connor, Tom Parsons, Jason Doherty; Cillian O'Connor, Aidan O'Shea, K McLoughlin. Subs: Chris Barrett for T Cunniffe (34 ), Rob Hennelly for Clarke (HT ), Pat Durcan for Vaughan (BC, 55 ), Andy Moran for Moran (61 ), Alan Freeman (0-1 ) for S O'Shea (65 ), Kevin Keane for Cafferkey (70 ).
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Eamonn McGee, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Odhran MacNiallais; Christy Toye, Hugh McFadden, Mark McHugh; Paddy McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden. Subs: Martin McElhinney for Toye (HT ), Anthony Thompson for N McGee (38 ), Leo McLoone for MacNiallais (39 ).
Referee: David Gough (Meath )