We’re not done yet. It looked for long periods this afternoon at McCumhaill Park in Ballybofey that our time in Division One was finally up but when we really needed to the lads put their hands in the fire and did what needed to be done. We got the draw and with it the precious League point that guaranteed, once again, our top tier survival.
This match deserves a longer match report than this but the time is approaching six and I’m still parked up close to the pitch, with the drive back to Dublin yet to do. Because I’ve no other choice, I’ll keep it brief.
We started the match perfectly. Aidan won the first ball, our opening attack might have yielded a goal but the chance didn’t come off and Andy pointed smartly from a quick recycle.
We’d made two switches ahead of throw-in. David Drake started in place of Ger Cafferkey, with Caolan Crowe dropping to full-back, Paddy Durcan into the corner and Kevin McLoughlin shifting to wing-back. Conor Loftus lined out instead of Adam Gallagher up top.
McGlynn equalised for them but we then got the next four scores as we really grabbed this contest by the throat.
Jason Doherty, with a great catch and quick turn, fired over the first. Then Kevin McLoughlin broke forward and shot over on the run. Diarmuid O’Connor then burst through on goal but shot straight at the keeper, Andy gathering the rebound and palming over.
Andy got our next score too. A delicious pass inside by Conor Loftus was claimed by the Ballaghaderreen man but one-on-one with the goalie he couldn’t keep his shot down and it flew over.
We looked rampant at this stage but then it all went horribly wrong. Another score or two then and we could have been out of sight by half-time but they got one point, then another and before we knew it they were level.
They didn’t stop there either, adding three more points before we finally broke a 20-minute barren spell. That one came from a fortunate enough free awarded for what didn’t really look like a foul on Andy. Conor knocked it over.
They had the last say, though, with a McBrearty free to leave them nine to six up at the break.
I didn’t, I have to admit, see us rescuing the match from there and, to my chagrin, I said so on the podcast at half-time. Our first quarter start had been great but our second quarter collapse so frustrating and so very, very predictable. We were in a right hole then.
To be fair, we did up the energy levels after the break. We pegged them back to a point but, with ten to go, the lead was back out to three points. Now we really were looking down the barrel.
We didn’t appear to be helping ourselves either, with no substitutes at all introduced until ten minutes to go, when we replaced David Drake with Michael Hall.
I felt Diarmuid could – and should – have been hauled off well before then but he stayed on ’till the end. But, then again, with ten to go I was calling loudly for Kevin McLoughlin to be yanked ashore too.
Just before Michael came on, MacNialas pointed to put them three clear, driving what looked like the final nail into the coffin. But that was Donegal’s final score of the day. We hadn’t finished up yet.
A foul on Jason in an advanced position gave Conor the fairly straightforward task of pointing to reduce the gap to two. He didn’t disappoint.
Into injury time now, though, it looked like we’d left it too late. We had the ball on their 45 but couldn’t punch a way through, as we went over and back across the field to no effect.
Then The Class of 2016 intervened. Michael Hall, Fergal Boland and Stephen Coen were all involved in the passage of play that preceded Eoin O’Donoghue’s blistering surge forward. The young Belmullet man fairly let fly on the run from well out and the gap was down to one.
Donegal used up a full minute of injury time with messing and tomfoolery but we eventually got the ball back. This was our final chance to save our Division One status.
I can’t describe it in detail, I’m afraid, as I was in excitement-overload territory by then. But I can say that the score was an outrageously brave effort from Kevin McLoughlin scored – it was Mayo great Kevin O’Neill who assured me of this afterwards – off his weaker right foot from well over fifty yards out.
Kevin McLoughlin with the crucial point to leave the sides even as the ref blows the whistle pic.twitter.com/Rrj6zuSmCN
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 25, 2018
Now it was our turn to run the clock down. We started a row which took a few minutes to sort and no sooner was the ball kicked out than Anthony Nolan blew the full-time whistle. We’d done it. We’d got the draw.
Make no mistake, this is a huge result for us. Despite everything that has befallen us since the end of January we have, once again, managed to do enough to stave off relegation. Once more, when the questions have been asked of us in earnest we’ve dug deep and found the answers.
And with what timing too. Galway will, for sure, head into our Connacht showdown in May with extra energy from their great League campaign. But, following this afternoon’s great escape in Ballybofey, so will we.
Mayo: David Clarke; Caolan Crowe, David Drake, Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1); Colm Boyle, Stephen Coen, Paddy Durcan; Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Kevin McLoughlin (0-2), Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Jason Doherty (0-1), Andy Moran (0-3), Conor Loftus (0-6, five frees). Subs: Michael Hall for Drake, Fergal Boland for Seamus O’Shea, Barry Moran for Parsons, Alan Freeman for Doherty.
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Donegal? Pick your top three performers
- Conor Loftus (37%, 542 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (24%, 345 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (11%, 159 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (9%, 127 Votes)
- Caolan Crowe (5%, 76 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (4%, 54 Votes)
- Andy Moran (2%, 31 Votes)
- Alan Freeman (1%, 21 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (1%, 19 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 18 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 14 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 11 Votes)
- David Drake (1%, 10 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (1%, 9 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 8 Votes)
- Barry Moran (1%, 8 Votes)
- David Clarke (0%, 6 Votes)
- Michael Hall (0%, 4 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 957