The Mayo senior hurlers are going back to Croke Park for the first time since 2004, when they lost an All Ireland senior B championship final to Kildare in GAA HQ. This time they will be taking on Armagh in the Nicky Rackard Cup final after a hard fought victory over Donegal in Letterkenny on Saturday afternoon.
JP Coen’s men almost let slip the place in the final after they took their foot off the gas when they went ten points clear five minutes into the second half after Joe McManus had found the back of the net from a tight angle to put Mayo 1-15 to 1-5 in the lead.
Mayo looked like they were already planning for a fortnights time on the field and they let Donegal back into the game and only for some great last ditch defending their summers would have ended here. But they dug in when it counted at the end and hung on for a four point win.
Kenny Feeney got things running for Mayo early doors and he hit the first three points of the day, two from frees and the other a deft finish from play after Keith Higgins found him in behind the cover. Higgins had been named at centre-half-forward but he played out the contest in the centre-half-back position. Joe McManus put Mayo 0-4 to 0-0 into the lead seven minutes in and they were well in control. On the ten minute mark Donegal struck their first goal when midfielder Ciaran Mathewson was allowed to charge into the danger area and fire it past Donal O’Brien. Both sides exchanged a few scores following that goal, but Mayo really hit a purple patch with Sean Regan finding his scoring range hitting four points on the trot to set Mayo up for a 0-13 to 1-5 lead at the break.
The second half burst into life early on as Darren McTigue slammed over two points on the bounce inside the opening two minutes and when McManus found the back of the net in the 40th minute it looked like Mayo were home and hosed as they went ten points clear, but it would be another 20 minutes until they raised a white flag again as Donegal found a foothold in the game and went for it. They reeled off six scores without reply before Kenny Feeney hit another point for Mayo leaving the score at 1-16 to 1-11. But Mayo tried to play it to clever from a puck out and O’Brien and Patrick Connell contrived to loose the sliothar and Donegal worked it to Danny Cullen who found the net on the run and close the gap to just three points and the home crowd were now right behind them.
But Mayo held on a dug in and points from sub Fergal Boland and one more from Kenny sealed the win and sen them forward to Croke Park in two weeks time and a date with destiny against Armagh.
Mayo: K Feeney (0-7, 5f, 1 65 ), S Regan 0-4, J McManus (1-1 ), D McTigue (0-2 ), C Freeman (0-1 ), S Boland (0-1 ), K McDermott (0-1 ), F Boland (0-1 )
Donegal: L Henderson (0-7, 7f ), D Cullen (1-1 ), C Matthewson (1-0 ), N Cleary (0-1 ), S McVeigh (0-1 ), J O’Loughlin (0-1 )
Mayo: D O’Brien; E Collins, G McManus, B Hunt; C Freeman, P O’Flynn, A Lyons; C Charlton, K McDermott; S Regan, K Higgins, J McManus; D McTigue, K Fenney, S Boland. Subs: P Connell for P O’Flynn, F Boland for A Lyons, D Kenny for G McManus, C Scahill for D McTigue, S Mulroy forS Boland
Donegal: P Burns; P Doherty, J McGhee, M Callaghan; J O’Loughlin, J Donnelly, C McDermott; D Cullen, C Mathewson; L Henderson, N Cleary, B Lafferty, R McDermott, S Gillespie, S McVeigh. Subs: J Boyle for J McGhee, K Campbell for B Lafferty, P Hannigan for N Cleary
Ref: J Murphy (Limerick )