Mayo 1-12Donegal 0-13
Usual suspects Kerry and Dublin will contest the NFL Division 1 show-piece after a poor second-half this afternoon in Castlebar from Donegal handed Mayo victory.
It had looked so good for so long. Five minutes after the break, a Cian Mulligan double pushed the visitors four clear and Donegal appeared to be on their way to an earlier than expected outing at HQ.
However, they would fail to trouble the scoreboard operator from there on in and with Eamonn Doherty dismissed, they faded alarmingly during the remainder.
In the end, it was perhaps Mayo's desire to remain in Division 1 that trumped Donegal's wanting for a place in next weekend's final. They did want it - Gallagher insisted that was the case. But they just didn't want it enough.
Gallagher's side was without the influential Ryan McHugh at McHale Park in a contest where there was plenty on the line at both ends. Mayo were looking to retain their Division 1 status while Donegal were on the verge of a first topflight NFL final appearance since 2007.
From the off, a start time delayed by 10 minutes due to crowd congestion at the turnstiles, the visitors looked to open brightly. Eoin Ban Gallagher and Cian Mulligan dissected the posts as Donegal jumped to a two-point lead.
However, a rush of blood from Tir Chonaill stopper Mark Anthony McGinley, where he took out Cillian O'Connor in the process, handed the hosts the opportunity to skip in front from the spot.
The infringement did look like it occurred just outside the area. Nevertheless, O'Connor sent McGinley the wrong way as Mayo got off the mark in emphatic fashion.
Donegal wobbled slightly as Mayo tagged on the next three points through Andy Moran, O'Connor and Danny Kirby. Michael Murphy and Ciaran Thompson pulled Donegal back to within two. Shane Nally responded. But from that point on, the 14th minute, Donegal bossed matters entirely.
Rory Gallagher's men hammered over the next five scores in an impressive flexing of their scoring muscle to earn a deserving three-point advantage as the midpoint loomed. Murphy (fee) got that scoring spurt under way while Thompson, Jamie Brennan and Marty O'Reilly were all rewarded for their directness as the lead changed hands for the third time in the half.
Murphy boomed over a '45 before quickly following that up with another free. Colm Boyle dragged one back for Stephen Rochford's outfit. But with Frank McGlynn again taking advantage of that Mayo soft centre, Donegal eventually exited with a three-point upper hand and were looking forward to kicking with the elements in act two.
Half-time: Donegal 0-11: 1-5 Mayo.
Mayo sprung both Stephen Coen and Diarmuid O'Connor after the break while Aidan O'Shea followed a quarter of an hour in. The Breaffy man would have a serious impact on proceedings and it was he that eventually wrestled this one back his side's direction.
As Mayo began to stir, Mark Anthony McGinley did superb to turn a Lee Keegan flick up and over his own crossbar.
Up the other end, Cian Mulligan was having a stormer as his brace pushed Donegal four clear. With tempers beginning to flare, the hosts began to claw the leaders back in bit by bit, inch by inch. Tir Chonaill efforts waned worringly as Mayo pinged six on the bounce to go two clear two minutes out from the end of normal time.
As Cormac Reilly struggled to retain a sense of authority, the home crowd sensed his unease and were on his case as every available oppertunity.
Keith Higgans, O'Connor twice, and Lee Keegan were all on target to square matters up. With Donegal going down to 14 after Eamonn Doherty was red carded for clashing with O'Shea on 58 minutes, the Ulster men completely lost their shape and direction as Mayo powered through the final 10 or so minutes.
O'Connor, from a free and from play, booted Mayo in front and the same player quickly doubled that advantage. Donegal, with just two scores in the second-half, they went a full 30 minutes plus five added of injury time without another point, couldn't find a break.
And with the dust settling on a hectic final round of NFL fixtures, it'll be Dublin and Kerry that contest the NFL Division 1 final.
Speaking after, Donegal boss Gallagher admitted his side's efforts in the second-half just weren't good enough. He said: “We would be disappointed that we did not push on in the second half. There were a lot of positives. I thought the first half was exhilarating and in the second half even though Mayo were the stronger team, our boys did not shirk the challenge.
“We have not done a lot of training over the last month going from game to game and I thought there was an element of tiredness creeping in at the end. You will always be disappointed when you lose but we have to be brave and honest with where we are at and in the second half Mayo brought an awful lot of physicality to the game, they pinned us in on our short kick-outs and they dominated us around the middle but I am happy with where we are at the moment.”
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins (0-1), Chris Barrett; Colm Boyle (0-1), Lee Keegan (0-2), Patrick Durcan; Tom Parsons, Danny Kirby (0-1); Shane Nally (0-1), Cillian O'Connor (1-4,2f), Fergal Boland; Kevin McLaughlin, Andy Moran (0-2), David Drake.
Subs: Stephen Coen for C Boyle and Diarmuid O'Connor for F Boland (both ht), Aidan O'Shea for D Kirby (46), Jason Doherty for T Parsons (57), Donal Vaughan for D Drake (65), Conor O'Shea for S Nally (70)
Donegal: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon Doherty; Eoghan Gallagher (0-1), Ciaran Gillespie, Michael Carroll; Jason McGee, Ciaran Thompson (0-2); Frank McGlynn (0-1), Marty O'Reilly (0-1), Cian Mulligan (0-3); Jamie Brennan (0-1), Michael Murphy (0-4, 1f 1'45), Hugh McFadden.
Subs: Patrick McBrearty for K Lacey (59), Eoin McHugh for H McFadden (49), Mark McHugh for F McGlynn (65), Michael Langan for J McGee (68),
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).
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