Donegal's bite was early, deep and fatal
FOOTBALL ANALYST:DONEGAL WON this All-Ireland final with their approach from the very outset. They went straight for the jugular and drew a serious amount of blood. The long ball into their powerful inside men, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden, immediately brought the game to Mayo. It also left them with a huge mountain to climb.
Mayo have been forced to scale such peaks in finals before. At least they never stopped – I haven’t seen a team in 2012 work so hard around the middle third. But it was, yet again, a nightmare start comparable to 2004 and 2006.
Mayo got their match-ups wrong. Kevin Keane on Murphy led directly to the first goal. Keane simply could not handle the brute strength of the Donegal captain. I think they expected Murphy to start out the field initially but, very cleverly, he went towards the square.
But we shouldn’t be overly harsh on the Mayo management or Keane himself. It was an excellent take, fend and finish from my man of the match.
Murphy’s contribution was immense for 70 minutes. There was also some vital frees, that late fisted point, leadership in general and he took a massive belt in the game’s very last play. Mayo deserve credit for ensuring it remained a contest for the time it did.
Their industry made Donegal look sloppy. Aidan O’Shea was vital in all this. Granted, it took him a while to get into the game, but when he did Mayo started to win important possession to start their comeback.
Men like Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan also stepped up, constantly harassing and harrying yellow jerseys. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Mayo were struggling to hang on. That their work ethic was keeping them alive against a fitter, stronger team.
Just look at their scores. There were miracle points from Michael Conroy and Enda Varley. There was never a clear opening to unleash a shot on goal.
Paul Durcan had an easy game of it. Most of the Mayo opportunities were from out wide. There was nothing allowed come through the middle. Séamus Moynihan once compared facing Tyrone in an All-Ireland semi-final to Times Square at rush hour. Mayo players will understand what he means now.
There was the tigerish defending of Neil McGee and Eamon McGee had a terrific game, also in around the fullback line, while Mark McHugh was mopping up the breaks as he has done all season.
The Donegal motto seemed to be: No goals today. Once that held, the players themselves seemed to feel that they could not be beaten.
It was paramount for Mayo to start the second half well to ensure the feeling of inevitability couldn’t seep in. But McFadden kicked a free and while Cillian O’Connor responded, Frankie McGlynn raced up from corner back for his usual score. Wides from a kickable Enda Varley free and Michael Conway left a massive gulf between the teams. Mayo really needed those two attempts to go over the bar.