Mayo chase down another lost cause as Donegal relegated
Kevin McLoughlin’s 74th-minute point keeps Mayo in top flight for another year
Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin scores the point to tie the game against Donegal in the Allianz Football League Division One game at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Donegal 0-13 Mayo 0-13
Sooner or later, Mayo are going to have to officially name the Patron Saint of Lost Causes in their starting 15 – probably as a flying wing back or converted forward.
In Ballybofey, he wore the guise of Kevin McLoughlin, coolly marching into the Donegal 50 in the 74th minute and confidently thumping the equalising point to preserve Mayo’s division one status that dates back to 1997– and simultaneously completing Donegal’s luckless drop to division two.
It has often been said about Mayo that they never know when it’s over. That’s not quite true. It’s only when it’s over that it truly begins for this crowd. But even by their standards this was an extraordinary feat of escapology.
“I wouldn’t quite say worried,” said Stephen Rochford, leaning on a car in a sunny Ballybofey as the faithful headed west in renewed belief that maybe, just maybe, improbable glory lies ahead.
Whipped 0-10 to 2-14 a week ago by Tyrone, down Lee Keegan, Cillian O’Connor and a host of other boys of summer, Mayo just found a way here. They trailed 0-13 to 0-10 with nine minutes left in a match when scores were hard to come by. But there’s a bit of the Hurt Locker about this Mayo crowd: the clock ticks, the bomb seems set to detonate and they just keep plugging away.
“When it went down to three points there was always a goal option,” Rochford reasoned. “There was also the chance Donegal would see out the game conservatively and we could play on the front foot. There was a big breeze there. Donegal took advantage of that in the first half and we certainly took advantage in the second in Eoin and Kevin’s shots towards the end. But no I genuinely felt that if we got the margin down to two we would go right to the clock.”
All of this was a long way of saying that Mayo don’t know how to be dull and boring. It seems somehow wrong that Michael Murphy ended up on the relegated team after putting in a performance that was quite simply regal. He was splendid here as an all round footballer: indomitable in the air, moving like a tsunami through the heart of the Mayo defence and kicking a couple of typically outrageous points.
In this regard, he was matched by Patrick McBrearty, who was smuggled into the starting line-up just seconds before throw-in and thrilling, well, everyone really in the crowd of 11,250 with three first-half points that were jaw dropping in ambition and quality.
Again, Mayo didn’t panic and Caolan Crowe, with Stephen Coen sweeping, held the Kilcar man scoreless in the second half. McBrearty’s one mistake lay in his failure to lay the ball off to a team-mate after winning a 73rd-minute ball from Murphy: Donegal had, in that moment a clear three-on-one and any score would have saved them. Instead, Mayo found themselves back in that place they love best: on the trapeze wire with no safety net.
“I don’t think we nailed it perfectly but there was an improvement,” said Rochford.
“But the things that were important – one was getting a result and two, well, part of the reason that I am back in management is that there is huge character and determination in that group. And new guys: Eoin O’Donoghue, Conor Loftus: new leaders in the team today. They stood up and that is really pleasing.”
They did: Loftus fired 0-5 in that second half and O’Donoghue, the Belmullet corner back, delivered a bullet of a point to leave it at 0-12 to 0-13. Mayo’s war cabinet – Colm Boyle, the O’Shea brothers and McLoughlin – sensed the moment coming just as Donegal felt it slipping away: the story of their league season has been of repeatedly missing the last train home by seconds. Manager Declan Bonner cut an animated figure at the final whistle, mainly annoyed that his team weren’t given a few seconds to make up for a skirmish following McLoughlin’s point.
“It was more about the time at the end than anything else. I thought they got one very easy free in the second half that we were a wee bit disappointed with. But we said from the start that maybe we felt one or two decisions didn’t go our way along the way, but we’re not going to get into a blame game.
“We’re down: three points wasn’t good enough. Some very close matches if you take the point defeat to Galway and down in Kerry, that drawn match today. We were basically a point away from a very good league campaign in our eyes, but it wasn’t to be and we have to focus now on the Championship.”
Relegation is not a disaster for a young team and the performances of the powerful and smooth Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Jamie Brennan were among the pluses here. They have also managed to preserve their unbeaten record here dating back to 2010. But still, Mayo were the ones celebrating when the day was done.
DONEGAL: 1 S Patton; 17 N McGee, 2 P McGrath, 4 EB Gallagher (0-2); 3 E Doherty, 7 F McGlynn (0-1), 28 P Brennan; 6 L McLoone, 14 M Murphy (0-2 free); 9 H McFadden, 10 J Brennan (0-2), 8 C Thompson (0-1); 12 O McMacNiallais (0-1), 27 P McBrearty (0-4, two frees), 13 N O’Donnell.
Substitutes: 18 M McHugh for 13 N O’Donnell (46 mins), 21 C Morrison for 2 P McGrath (59) 15 S McBrearty for 8 C Thompson (59), 5 C Ward for 17 N McGee (61),23 C Mulligan for 10 J Brennan (67).
MAYO: 1 D Clarke; 17 D Drake, 2 C Crowe, 4 E O’Donoghue (0-1); 5 C Boyle, 6 S Coen, 7 P Durcan; 8 S O’Shea, 9 T Parsons; 10 K McLoughlin (0-2), 11 A O’Shea, 12 O’Connor; 13 J Doherty (0-1), 14 A Moran (0-3), 25 C Loftus (0-6, five frees).
Substitutes: 19 M Hall for 17 D Drake (63 mins), 23 F Boland for 8 S O’Shea (65), 21 B Moran for 9 T Parsons (67), 22 A Freeman for 13 J Doherty (69).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).