D1: Donegal reclaim top spot with battling win
Allianz Football League Division 1: Donegal 1-14 Mayo 1-12
By Chris McNulty in Ballybofey
Donegal showed their mettle in the second half to take a League win that wouldn’t have been out of place upon a summertime stage.
Leo McLoone’s goal in the 57th minute made all the difference as Rory Gallagher’s side cemented their lead at the top of Division 1 with a hard-fought win.
The latest installment of one of the modern day’s most intense rivalries in Gaelic football drew a crowd of 11,000 to Ballybofey on a day that was Championship-like in its feeling.
A Diarmuid O’Connor penalty had given Mayo – in desperate search of a first Legaue win of 2016 – the initiative, but it was McLoone who had the crucial swing of the pendulum.
After Anthony Thompson won a breaking ball around the middle, Christy Toye surged away and, via quick transfer to Rory Kavanagh, McLoone found himself eye-balling Rob Hennelly.
The Glenties man’s high finish re-ignited Donegal after O’Connor’s goal from a penalty in the 45th minute.
Evan Regan turned away from Eamon McGee, but was tripped by Peter Boyle, the Donegal goalkeeper, as he raced across goal.
O’Connor riffled to the bottom corner past Boyle after a delay of around four minutes as Barry Cassidy, the referee, brought order to the house.
Donegal threw Neil Gallagher into the equation, but the midfielder was black carded within a minute of his introduction.
By then, Donegal were looking vulnerable, but McLoone’s goal made it three-out-of-three in the League and stretched their unbeaten run in League and Championship games at Seán Mac Cumhaill Park to 14.
Two early Evan Regan frees had Mayo ahead, but Odhrán Mac Niallais arched over Donegal’s opening score.
The game ebbed and flowed for much of the first half with Mayo on top around the middle third and they capitalised on gaps in the hosts’ defence for points by Shane Nally, Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan.
Without being at the levels of their opening wins over Down and Cork – when they ammassed a combined win total of 27 points - Donegal managed to carve out a couple of goal chances.
However, Martin McElhinney, just seconds after his introduction, screwed wide while full-back Neil McGee wasn’t picked out when in an acre of space having sneaked his way up field.
Donegal leveled the scales for a fourth time as Michael Murphy drilled over a ’45, but it was Mayo who held a slender advantage at the break as corner-back Brendan Harrisson popped a point in first-half stoppage time.
Ryan McHugh brought Donegal back level 16 seconds into the second half and Donegal led for the first time when Mac Niallais boomed over in the 40th minute.
Mayo assumed control through O’Connor’s penalty, but the home side shook the heads clear.
Nine frees and a black card told the story of the subtext, but when McLoone struck gold Rory Gallagher’s side secured a valuable two points.
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy 0-5 (2f, 2 ’45), P McBrearty 0-4 (3f), L McLoone 1-0, O Mac Niallais, R McHugh 0-2 each, R Kavanagh 0-1
Scorers for Mayo: E Regan 0-5 (5f), D O’Connor 1-0 (1-0pen), R Hennelly 0-2 (1f, 1 ’45), S Nally, L Keegan, B Harrison C Loftus, S O’Shea 0-1 each
Donegal: P Boyle; E Doherty, N McGee, P McGrath; R McHugh, E McGee, E McHugh; R Kavanagh, M Murphy; H McFadden, F McGlynn, M Carroll; M O’Reilly, O McBrearty, O Mac Niallais. Subs: M McElhinney for Carroll (19), A Thompson for Doherty (h-t), N Gallagher for McFadden (44), C Toye for Gallagher (48, black card), L McLoone for E.McGee (51), C Ward for O’Reilly (69).
Mayo: R Hennelly; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, S Nally; M Hall, C Boyle, L Keegan; T Parsons, J Gibbons; D O’Connor, K McLoughlin, K Higgins; E Regan, A O’Shea, C O’Shea. Subs: C Loftus for Higgins (23), A Moran for Regan (49), Donal Vaughan for Nally (54), C Barrett for Hall (60), S O’Shea for Gibbons (63), J Doherty for D.O’Connor (69).
*Referee: *Barry Cassidy (Derry)