Donegal take Sam home to the hills


Donegal: 2-11 Mayo: 0-13:Sam is heading back to the hills – a second coming of sorts for Donegal as All-Ireland football champions, after a tense yet ultimately deserved victory in Croke Park this afternoon.

So, 20 years after their first and only other title, team captain Michael Murphy walked up the steps of the Hogan Stand before the typically rapturous Donegal supporters, their long and sometimes painful wait finally over.

For Mayo the even longer and more painful wait continues, their brave quest to win a first title since 1951 ultimately falling short, lacking the edge and instinct in front of goal to match Donegal’s enduring onslaught – and also hand them a sixth All-Ireland final defeat in the 61 years since.

It started with a Donegal landslide and although less convincing late on, after leading every step of the way – in the early stages, up by seven points – there was no denying Donegal in the end. Played before a capacity crowd of 82,269, Donegal simply had the greater spread of scoring forwards, none more vital than Murphy and Colm McFadden.

It was McFaddan who kick-started Donegal’s onslaught in the second half, with his third free – although cancelled out by Cillian O’Connor at the other end, and that summed up the swing in momentum throughout the second half.

Donegal kept turning the screw, corner back Frank McGlynn bursting through for an important point.
Spilling into the last 20 minutes, Mayo hit back again with two frees, from Enda Varley and then Cillian O’Connor – and the margin was back to three, again.

It seemed the momentum was with Mayo, but instead Murphy made no mistake from another placed kick, despite the pressure. Then, from nothing, McFadden won a free in front of goal and Murphy was never going to miss it – giving Donegal a five-point cushion, with just 10 minutes to play.

It might well have been game over moments later when Murphy’s fisted effort when just over the bar, instead of just under it – but still, Mayo were facing an uphill battle. Substitute Richie Feeney and both Lee Keegan pointed to gave them some hope, four points behind.

Instead, Donegal’s insurance point came from midfielder Neil Gallagher, cool as ice. Mayo needed a goal – got one great sniff of it, right on 70 minutes, but Seamus O’Shea just couldn’t unleash the shot, and although they had their chances, Mayo could have no great regrets.

Before that, an opening half of two halves – Donegal getting a dream start, before Mayo hauled themselves back into contention.

After some tense, frantic opening exchanges, the game was only two and a half minutes old when Karl Lacey delivered a sweet pass to Donegal captain Michael Murphy, and Bang! – his thundering, unstoppable goal setting the game alight.

Colm McFadden topped that off with a free, piling further pressure on Mayo early on – before worse was to come, 11 minutes in.

Mayo were harshly penalised for lifting in front of the Donegal goal, when the free could have gone the other way, and in the counterattack, Patrick McBrearty’s attempted point came back off the upright: misread by the Mayo defence, McFadden pounced for Donegal’s second goal: 2-1, to 0-0, the winner’s vicious onslaught looking impossible to handle.

At last, Mayo settled, Kevin McLoughlin pointing in the 16th minute – with Cillian O’Connor adding a free moments later: it was brief respite, as Ryan Bradley, then McFadden again, pointed for Donegal.

On 25 minutes they clawed one back, a second point from McLoughlin, against the run of play, sparking a mini comeback of sorts, O’Connor’s second free reducing the margin to five points.

Alan Dillon’s shot then came off the upright, and suddenly sloppy, Donegal conceded the free, which O’Connor coolly converted – before Michael Conroy pointed from an impossible angle, reducing the gap to three.

That turned the volume inside Croke Park up to 11 – and one last exchange before the break, a second free for McFaddan, amazingly Donegal’s first score in 15 minutes, before a final counterpunch from Enda Varley. So, that left it Donegal’s 2-4 to Mayo’s 0-7 at the break, still everything to play for.

Indeed Mayo gave it their all, but it was always going to be Donegal’s game to lose after that — and there would be no surrender.

An elated Jim McGuinness described Donegal’s All-Ireland victory as the realisation of a life-long dream. “It was pure joy and emotion at the end. Donegal is a football-mad county. To win the All-Ireland is something these players have been dreaming about since they were young boys. To get over the line is fantastic for them. Actually, it is life-changing.”

Donegal captain Michael Murphy, who scored the first goal inside three minutes admitted that their goal-scoring start was important. “It was a boost to get those early goals. We did not really capitalise on them in the latter stages of the half. Mayo came back and we were hanging on a bit, but we are delighted to have made it.

“It is unbelievable. To see so many smiles on so many faces is great. It hasn’t kicked in yet. I don’t think it will either. It’s just an absolute unbelievable feeling. To be written off for so many years and even last year and a wee bit this year, I think the character shone through.

“The most pleasing aspect is to see so many smiles on so many people’s faces and long may it continue over the next couple of weeks. I was just delirious. It was just an unbelievable feeling. It’s something indescribable. It’s something every Gaelic footballer wants, something that we’ve dreamed about for many years.  Then to just actually get over the line is just unbelievable.”

DONEGAL:P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn; E McGee, K Lacey, A Thompson; N Gallagher, R Kavanagh; M McHugh, L McLoone, R Bradley; P McBrearty, M Murphy (Capt), C McFadden.

Subs:D Walsh for Bradley (40 mins), M McElhinney for McBrearty (48 mins), C Toye for McLoone (57 mins), D Molloy for McElhinney (72 mins).

MAYO:D Clarke (Capt); K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; B Moran, A O’Shea; K McLoughlin, J Doherty, A Dillon; E Varley, C O’Connor, M Conroy.

Subs:A Freeman for Doherty (49 mins), J Gibbons for Conroy (59 mins), R Feeney for Varley (60 mins), S O’Shea for Moran (59 mins)

Referee:Maurice Deegan (Laois)
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