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Donegal end 20 year wait

September 24th, 2012

GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final:
Donegal 2-11 Mayo 0-13

Donegal ended a 20-year wait for Sam Maguire with a deserved four-point defeat of Mayo in the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship final at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon.

Donegal did all the damage in the first 11 minutes, a period in which they had established a 2-1 to 0-0 lead, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden both hitting the net in a remarkable start to a game that never quite reached those heights again.

Mayo fought back and were the better side for large parts of the second and third quarters, but they lacked the creativity and guile to unlock a mean Donegal defence in which the McGee brothers, Eamon and Neil, had outstanding games.

The Donegal machine may have spluttered at times – the six points Mayo scored from frees was the most they have conceded in their seven-game winning run – and even though Mayo came back to within three points by the 52nd minute, Jim McGuinness’s side finished strongly and dominated the closing stages to seal a remarkable All-Ireland success.

For Mayo, the heartache and their agonising wait for an All-Ireland title continues, this latest loss in Croke Park adding to a horrendous sequence of six successive All-Ireland final defeat since 1989.

In truth, they should have been dead and buried after that poor start, but they deserve credit for taking the game to Donegal before half-time and posing some serious questions of a side that had steam-rolled all before them this year. Were it not for some poor shooting after the restart, they might well have made a much closer game of it.

Michael Murphy chose an opportune time to have his best game of the year, the Glenswilly man making hay on the edge of the square having played further out the field for most of the season.

The move caught Mayo by surprise in the first 10 minutes, with the Donegal captain scoring a brilliant early goal, and then steadying his side’s nerves in the final quarter with three points in seven minutes, halting James Horan’s side in their tracks at a point when they looked like mounting a late comeback.

Murphy and McFadden scored 2-8 between them, while Cillian O’Connor was Mayo’s main marksman with 0-5.

After a nervy start from both sides, Donegal were first to settle. And how they did. Murphy missed the first two balls played in his direction; he would make no mistake with the third. Karl Lacey found the Donegal captain with an excellent diagonal ball and Murphy did the rest, catching high over Kevin Keane’s head and burying a shot high past David Clarke, the Mayo goalkeeper.

Mayo were struggling. Donegal’s all-action dynamo Mark McHugh poured forward in the sixth minute and was cynically taken out by Lee Keegan, whose high tackle earned him a yellow card. McFadden flicked over the resultant free, but he would get a far greater award shortly later.

Mayo were overwhelmed in the opening stages, unable to cope with the speed of Donegal’s breaks, and unable to make any ball stick in their inside forward line, where Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath were dominant. On 11 minutes, the Ulster champions snaffled a second goal. Patrick McBrearty sent a shot off a post, but the rebound fell straight to Kevin Keane, who failed to gather the ball and McFadden swept in to drill a second goal past Clarke.

The game could well have been over two minutes later. Murphy again won a good ball on the edge of the square and fed McFadden, but this time Clarke was able to get down low and smother the shot.

Mayo eventually got off the mark on 16 minutes, when Kevin McLoughlin put a snap shot over the bar. O’Connor then added his side’s second, but there was still no real sense that Mayo were in the game in any way. That was hammered home when Ryan Bradley and McFadden kicked points that underlined Donegal’s dominance of the first quarter.

However, Mayo were beginning to gain a toehold in the game, winning more ball in the middle third and forcing Donegal into some uncharacteristic mistakes. Discipline has been one of the key factors in Donegal’s success this year, but the their defence started to give away silly frees, with O’Connor on hand twice to punish them, and McLoughlin adding his second score from play.

All of a sudden, Mayo had all the momentum, and an excellent 33rd minute score from Michael Conroy – he won the ball in the corner and curled over a super shot – was their fourth point in succession.

Donegal ended a 16-minute spell without a point when McFadden drilled over a long-range free in added time, but Mayo had the deficit back to three just before the break. Dónal Vaughan bombed forward and set up Enda Varley, who chipped his shot over to leave his side 2-4 to 0-7 down.

The first 10 minutes of the second half were replete with errors. Mayo kicked three poor wides in that time, Barry Moran, Varley and Conroy all squandering chances. However, Donegal’s play was equally untidy, a Frank McGlynn score the only flash of their characteristic counter-attacking play.

And yet they forged further ahead thanks to frees from McFadden and Murphy, who put his side 2-7 to 0-8 ahead in the 48th minute. Two quick frees, from Varley and O’Connor, brought the gap back to three, but that was as close as Mayo would get.

Murphy, who emulated his hero Anthony Molloy in collecting Sam at the end of the game, came back into the game in the final quarter, with his two hugely important frees putting Donegal back into a more comfortable position. Murphy could have put the result beyond all doubt on the hour mark, when he challenged goalkeeper Clarke for Rory Kavanagh’s diagonal ball, but his fisted effort careered over the bar.

Richie Feeney and Lee Keegan pulled scores back for Mayo as they dropped Aidan O’Shea into full-forward in a desperate bid to salvage something from the game.

It was too little too late, as Christy Toye, who was a steadying influence for Donegal after coming on in the final quarter, fed Neil Gallagher, who popped over the insurance score two minutes from time.

Mayo Scorers: K McLoughlin 0-2, C O’Connor 0-5 (0-5f), E Varley 0-2 (0-1f), M Conroy 0-1, L Keegan 0-1, R Feeney 0-1, J Gibbons 0-1.

Donegal Scorers: Murphy 1-4 (0-3f), McFadden 1-4 (0-3f), R Bradley 0-1, F McGlynn 0-1, N Gallagher 0-1.

Mayo: D Clarke; 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 (50), J Gibbons for Conroy (59), R Feeney for Varley (61), S O’Shea for Moran (69).

Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn; E McGee, K Lacey, A Thompson; N Gallagher, R Kavanagh; R Bradley, L McLoone, M McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden. Subs: D Walsh for Bradley (41), McElhinney for McBrearty (48), C Toye for L McLoone (57), D Molloy for McElhinney (72).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

Attendance: 82,269