The Mayo women footballers were edged out of it by Donegal this evening in a sun-drenched MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey. It was an even contest for the most part but when the home team pushed four points ahead in the final quarter there was no way back for Michael Moyles’ battling Mayo team.
It was nip and tuck all throughout the first half. The teams traded scores from start to finish and we went in at the break leading by a single point.
Donegal raced into a two-point lead early on and they were on top in those early exchanges. Hegarty and Guthrie, who were both a thorn in the visitors’ defence throughout, got those two points, both of them from frees.
A Rachel Kearns free got us moving on five minutes. They then added another before a Shauna Howley free and an absolute belter of a point from way out by Niamh Kelly hauled us level.
A minute later we hit the front courtesy of Rachel Kearns. She got hurt in a collision as she connected with the ball but she up and back in the fray soon enough. Already, Rachel had shown herself to be our main threat up front, leading Donegal to double-team her for a time.
Even with two markers, the MacHale Rovers player couldn’t be kept out of it. In the final move before the water break she advanced on goal but wisely opted to pop the ball over off her hand, to extend our lead to two.
Donegal’s bright start now felt a while ago and when they next scored, from a Guthrie free, it was their first point in all of 16 minutes. But they scored again soon after and the match was all square again.
Shauna Howley (a free) and Hegarty, from play, traded scores as half-time beckoned. Just before the short whistle Rachel Kearns landed a monstrous free, from more than 40 yards out, to send us in with an 0-7 to 0-6 lead.
The home side resumed with a bit more pep in their step. Two points without reply put them back in front and now we found we had to dig deep to keep with them.
Tamara O’Connor, from play, equalised for us. Guthrie responded with a super point under pressure to edge Donegal back in front but then Tamara, raiding down the right wing, smashed over a fine leveller.
As play resumed after the second water break, Grace Kelly – on for Deirdre Doherty for the second half – ended a move by hooking it over to put us back in the lead.
But then came the game’s turning point. Guthrie was tripped – it looked accidental to these biased eyes – and the ref spread his arms wide. McLoughlin made no mistake from the spot.
Then Ella Brennan was very harshly sin-binned for what was little more than a collision. I really hate that yellow card rule in women’s football – it’s so bloody arbitrary and in a game of such fine margins, on a hot summer’s evening, losing a player at a critical time was always going to hobble us badly.
Guthrie pointed the free and then added one from play to hoist them four clear and that, in effect, was the game won. We battled hard but they threw bodies behind the ball and we never looked like getting the goal we so badly needed to get something from this tie.
In the end sub Fiona Doherty bagged a point but that was deep in stoppage time and it was little more than a consolation score. Donegal won out by three points, 1-11 to 0-11, to move clear at the top of Division 1A on two wins from two outings.
Hard luck to the women but they’re far from out of it yet. Next up for them is a trip to Mullingar to face Westmeath on Sunday week.
Mayo: Aisling Tarpey; Éilish Ronayne, Clodagh McManamon, Ella Brennan; Tamara O’Connor (0-2), Orla Conlon, Marie Corbett; Niamh Kelly (0-1), Sinead Cafferky; Fiona McHale, Shauna Howley (0-2, frees), Kathryn Sullivan; Deirdre Doherty, Rachel Kearns (0-4, two frees), Lisa Cafferky. Subs: G Kelly (0-1) for Doherty, Maria Reilly for Howley, Ciara Whyte for Corbett, Fiona Doherty (0-1) for Cafferkey, Saoirse Walsh for O’Connor, Mary McHale for Fiona McHale.