Mayo were clinging on by the skin of their teeth, but it didn’t look good as they trailed by three points with only six minutes on the clock. However, Conor Loftus’ sixth point of the day and another from wing-back Eoin O’Donoghue brought the margins to a minimum before McLoughlin’s decisive late strike.
Donegal, who missed late chances from Patrick McBrearty and Odhran MacNiallais, were irked by the fact they weren’t permitted another play to save themselves.
“We lost our way in the middle section but we just stuck in the game,” Rochford said afterwards. “That is what the experience counts for. We were making it easy for Donegal. We weren’t getting it on the money. We did a lot better in the second half but we had to leave it till the last six minutes. We’re relieved more than enjoying it to be honest.
“I wouldn’t quite say I was worried. When it went down to three points there was always a goal option. 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.”
The visitors finished well and started well, moving into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead inside of the first 10 minutes as they sought to stay to Division 1 for the 21st successive year. Andy Moran started impressively and Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton redeemed himself following a poor kick-out to save from Diarmuid O’Connor.
Donegal finally got motoring with what would be their best spell of the contest, kicking seven points in succession. Ciaran Thompson, Michael Murphy, the marauding Eoghan Ban Gallagher all posted scores before Jamie Brennen levelled matters.
The team managed by Declan Bonner continued with their forward trajectory with McBrearty in particular on form, to go in leading by 0-9 to 0-6. The Kilcar forward was a surprise inclusion having been an absentee with a calf injury in Donegal’s losses to Tyrone and Monaghan.
Conor Loftus, who would score six in all, notched four points in the early moments of the second half to bring Mayo to within a point, with Murphy and McBrearty steadying the nerves for the home team.
Jamie Brennan’s score, 13 minutes from time, made it 0-12 to 0-10 for the hosts and when MacNiallais pushed it out to three points, Donegal were almost safe.
Mayo, though, showed serious grit in front of the crowd of 11,250 to eke out those three late scores and keep their head above water. Donegal will return to Division 2 for the first time since 2014.
Donegal hadn’t been beaten at MacCumhaill Park for 19 matches, a run that goes back as far as the 2010 Ulster championship. But it certainly felt like a defeat yesterday, as it was the jubilant Mayo support who took to the field afterwards. They still have never won in Donegal but they will not mind that stat.
“It is disappointing, but you have to take your chances,” Donegal manager Bonner said afterwards.
“We had chances at the end and we did not take them. It can be a cruel game at times. We did not get the rub of the green and we did not convert those chances late on which would have seen us through.
“We are not going to be laying the finger of blame on anyone.
“It is a squad effort and we are all in it together but we put in a good effort today. We were up against an experienced Mayo team and they played to the end.” The game was stopped for a minute and a half and the next thing it is blown up after four minutes. We thought there was going to be at least one play in it but it wasn’t to be. That’s disappointing. It was one of those campaigns where maybe it was our destiny to go back into Division 2.”
P McBrearty 0-4, 2f, E Ban Gallagher, J Brennan 0-2, M Murphy 0-2,1f, C Thompson, O MacNiallais, F McGlynn 0-1
C Loftus 0-6, 5f, A Moran 0-3 K McLoughlin 0-2, J Doherty E O’Donoghue 0-1
S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, E Doherty; P Brennan, L McLoone, E Ban Gallagher; C Thompson, H McFadden; F McGlynn, M Murphy, O Mac Niallais; N O’Donnell, P McBrearty, J Brennan.
M McHugh for O’Donnell (45), S McBrearty for Thompson (58), C Morrison for McGrath (58), C Ward for McGee (61), C Mulligan for Brennan (68).
D Clarke; C Crowe, D Drake, E O’Donoghue; C Boyle, S Coen, P Durcan; S O’Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin , A O’Shea, D O’Connor; J Doherty, A Moran, C Loftus.
M Hall for Drake (63), F Boland for S O’Shea (65), B Moran for Parsons (68), A Freeman for Doherty (70).
A Nolan (Wicklow).