Rory Gallagher’s side came out on top in a contest that could have gone either way to move onto six points from their three outings thus far this season.
On the other hand, for Mayo manager Stephen Rochford the Allianz FL Division 1 has, statistically, been a pointless exercise thus far.
With four games to go, Mayo need points — starting against Monaghan in Clones next weekend.
Playing a part in a thoroughly entertaining match with a championship feel in front of 11,000 in springtime sunshine didn’t particularly wash with Rochford.
“It was a good game but I’m sorry to say this — we have to move beyond good games and performances and look to get two points and that will be the stretch on us when we go to Clones,” he said afterwards.
Mayo had every chance to win this one. They didn’t fall behind till the 40th minute and in a contest where margins were thin, there hadn’t been more than two points in it until then.
Then, having gone behind to an Odhrán MacNiallais floater, Mayo manufactured a goal-scoring opportunity themselves within a minute when Evan Regan ghosted inside Eamon McGee before being floored by Donegal goalkeeper Peter Boyle. Penalty.
With the fractiousness growing, it took over four minutes for Diarmuid O’Connor to score the kick.
Donegal complained about the award, more so over whether Regan carried the ball out instead of his being clipped. O’Connor, getting impatient perhaps, sent Boyle the wrong way but Barry Cassidy, the match referee, wasn’t ready.
O’Connor re-spotted the ball and planted it into Boyle’s bottom corner — having gone high the first time — to put Mayo 1-10 to 0-10 in front with 45 minutes on the clock.
But a facet of Donegal’s season to date has been the stream of young talent used by Gallagher. In turn, that leaves an experienced bench, that includes Neil Gallagher, Leo McLoone, Christy Toye, Anthony Thompson and Martin McElhinney.
Gallagher was sprung but lasted not much more than a minute before being black-carded for a foot trip. Then, and only then maybe, did it seem as though it would be Mayo’s day.
But Michael Murphy was flawless from placed balls and his stablemate Patrick McBrearty also popped over to leave Donegal just one down, 1-10 to 0-12, before the move that essentially won the match.
Thompson picked up dirty ball and set Toye away and he in turn found Rory Kavanagh — starting his first game since the 2014 All-Ireland final having come out of retirement. Kavanagh waited his moment before off-loading to Leo McLoone, who hammered past Rob Hennelly on 57 minutes. Murphy scored a quite extraordinary point, with the ball taking an eternity to drop as he swung whilst losing his balance, and McBrearty put over his third free.
With little between the two teams in an entertaining first half, the one kick of a ball that separated the teams came from an unlikely source, with corner-back Brendan Harrison dissecting the posts to give the Connacht champions an 0-8 to 0-7 interval lead.
There was, as has become the norm when these two meet, some bite with Donegal picking up seven yellow cards to Mayo’s three. The first half contained more quality than the second, but that was compensated for in intensity — it was as good as you could reasonably expect from football in February.
“What pleased me most about today, we were far from at our best, to be fair I thought Mayo were the better team in the first half by a long shot but we dug in and we chipped over a few scores,” Donegal manager Gallagher said afterwards. “In the second half we turned the screw, even before the penalty we were the better team and showed good control of the game.”
M Murphy (0-5, 2f, 2 45); P McBrearty (0-4, 3f); L McLoone (1-0); R McHugh, O MacNiallais (0-2 each); R Kavanagh (0-1)
E Regan (0-4f); R Hennelly (0-2, 1f 1 45); D O’Connor (1-0); B Harrison, A O’Shea, L Keegan 0-1, S Nally, C Loftus, S O’Shea (0-1 each)
P Boyle; E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath, R McHugh, F McGlynn, E Doherty; R Kavanagh, H McFadden; M Carroll, M Murphy, E McHugh; P McBrearty, M O’Reilly, O MacNiallais
M McElhinney for Carroll 19; A Thompson for Doherty HT, N Gallagher for McFadden 46, C Toye for Gallagher 48, L McLoone for E McGee 51, C Ward, for M O’Reilly
R Hennelly; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, M Hall; T Parsons, J Gibbons; K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, C O’Shea; S Nally, E Regan, D O’Connor
C Loftus for Higgins 24; A Moran for Regan 50, D Vaughan for Nally 54, C Barrett for Hall 60, S O’Shea for Gibbons 63, J Doherty for D O’Connor
B Cassidy (Derry)