Rory Kavanagh was controversially sent off a minute before half-time for flinging an arm in the direction of Kevin McLoughlin. After McLoughlin hit the deck Sligo referee Marty Duffy brandished a straight red card but the contact seemed to be to McLoughlin’s chest and Kavanagh left the field shaking his head.
“It was looking like a very difficult situation for us trying to turn it around but we dug in very well and responded well to the sending off,” said Donegal manager Jim McGuinness, who added they will launch an appeal.
Having trailed by five points at one stage in the first half, Donegal reduced the deficit to two points, 1-5 to 0-6 down, by half-time.
The gusting wind though, had been at Mayo’s backs in the first half and their second period was fruitless until goalkeeper David Clarke knocked over a 45 one minute from time, by which stage full-back Ger Cafferkey had also been sent off after one foul too many on Michael Murphy.
The Connacht champions opened much the brighter and by themidpoint of the first half had built a healthy advantage. Ten minutes in, Enda Varley netted what proved to be the only goal after Conor Mortimer had sneaked in behind Eamon McGee to lay on the chance.
The goal rubber stamped Mayo’s initial dominance with McLoughlin, Alan Dillon and Mortimer adding points, the westerners led 1-3 to 0-1, with Patrick McBrearty the only home scorer in the first 20 minutes.
However, Donegal got on top, helped primarily by Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher getting to grips with Seamus O’Shea and Barry Moran in the middle third.
The Ulster champions, who had used their captain Murphy in a roaming role to begin with, shifted through the gears. Murphy and Colm McFadden added a brace to reduce the margin although Mayo, through two Mortimer frees, were in a reasonably good position at the interval.
Despite being a man down Donegal never looked back in the second half. Murphy was plonked in his most natural abode at full-forward and wreaked havoc.
Barely two minutes in Karl Lacey broke from the half-back line and slung over a point. Two McFadden frees either side of a McBrearty score then put Donegal ahead.
Donegal were in complete control and Leo McLoone, Mark McHugh, Murphy and McFadden points eased them home before Cafferkey walked.
It marked the conclusion of arguably Donegal’s best performance of the year to date, while Mayo were left with more questions than answers.
“We were just terrible today in every aspect of the game,” Mayo manager James Horan said. “We looked every bit a terrible team and we’ve got a bad beating, a very bad beating. We need to react in the right way.
“The amount of ball that we turned over today was unbelievable.
“We wouldn’t have won a Division 4 game today, never mind a game in Division 2.”
Scorers for Donegal: C McFadden 0-8 (7f); M Murphy 0-5 (2f); P McBrearty 0-2; K Lacey, L McLoone 0-1 each.
Scorers for Mayo: E Varley 1-0; C Mortimer 0-3 (3f); K McLoughlin, A Dillon and M Conroy, D Clarke (1 45) 0-1 each.
Subs for Donegal: Martin McElhinney for O’Reilly (ht), Dermot Molloy for Bradley (46), D Walsh for McBrearty (70).
Subs for Mayo: P Harte for A Freeman (ht), R Feeney for Keegan (44), C O’Connor for Varley (61), J Doherty, M Conroy for McLoughlin and Mortimer (70).
Referee: Martin Duffy (Sligo).