Well that was just about as dark a day as you’ll get – Donegal were hammered out the gate yesterday by a Mayo side hell bent on ending their All-Ireland hoodoo. Coming into the game, deep down most Donegal supporters felt this was probably a game too far for the team but no-one expected what we witnessed in Croke Park.
Fair play to Mayo, they blew us away and there’s no substitute for sheer bloody mindedness and will to win. They were ravenous from the first whistle to the last and showed their intent with the first goal. When Eamonn McGee was dispossessed it was an easy chance for Kevin McLoughlin to pop the ball over the bar but he smelt blood and instead worked the ball inside to Cillian O’Connor who finished wonderfully past Paul Durcan. Donegal initially did well to work their way back into the game but once the second green flag was raised the game was up.
Durcan’s kickout strategy was a big factor in the early part of the game - time and again in looking for Neil Gallagher he was simply kicking the ball straight down on top of Aidan O’Shea who was majestic. In the same way that Gallagher dominated Cork in last year’s semi final, the Breaffy man towered above all around him and was unplayable. But that begs the question why did we continue to kick the ball to him? It was strange to say the least.
With able runners all around O'Shea, Mayo attacked Donegal in droves and their pace against a heavy-legged green and gold defence led to a rout – we conceded more goals yesterday than we did in the entire championship last year.
In truth Jim and Rory probably knew Donegal weren’t quite there coming into the game and hence all the nonsense coming out of the camp during the week. That was designed to lift the boys and get a bit of bite into their game but they were flat again, just like against Monaghan and had no answer to Mayo’s speed and aggression.
The McGee brothers both looked well off the pace and with Neil being substituted at the break you wonder whether he had picked up an injury during the week – he had a fantastic game in Carrick last Saturday but was a poor imitation of his usual self yesterday. Eamonn didn’t get anywhere near O’Connor and was then deservedly sent off in the second half for a reckless stamp and his manager didn’t look at all impressed as he trotted off the field.
Paddy McGrath tried his hardest and was doing a great marking job on Andy Moran until he picked up a caution leading to a more subdued second half display. McGrath, along with Michael Murphy and Frank McGlynn kept fighting right until the end but too many players seemed to stop trying.
Despite carrying an injury, Mark McHugh had a good game but his mistake in the build up to the second goal was a real killer. He kept plugging away though and finished with two points from play.
Mayo started emptying their bench soon after the restart but the scores kept coming with Kevin Keane’s point the icing on the cake – he was the man destroyed by Murphy in last year’s final and the management and supporters took particular satisfaction from his point off his left in front of the Hill.
It was tough to watch the game through Donegal eyes but you have to put up with these kinds of days as a GAA supporter. We’ve had plenty of them before of course and last year was obviously so much more special having been in the wilderness for so long before that and having being on the receiving end of beatings a lot more regularly. Some supporters have short memories though and despite these boys having given us some of the greatest days of our lives last year, plenty of the crowd left early and headed for the road or the watering holes of Drumcondra. The team were shockingly poor yesterday but they still deserved to be clapped off the field after all they’ve done for us.
Indeed they’re not quite finished yet - the team will be back next year competing for top honours. They’re still a hugely talented bunch and have the best manager in the game. Jim knows he’ll have to go away and dream it all up again; with so many teams adopting Donegal’s template they will need something different next year. Hopefully with injuries and niggles cleared up and a bit of freshness back in the legs the team will be ready to go again.
Mayo have now dethroned the All-Ireland champions for three years running but looking at Dublin this year should give encouragement to Donegal that they can come back. Despite the horror show and indeed embarrassment that players and supporters alike will feel, the nature of defeat might be a good thing in that the team will be itching to get back to Croke Park and put things right. They will have to live with loss over the winter and it won’t be easy.
After the winter though, spring will swap snow for leaves and it’ll start all over again – McKenna Cup, a Division Two league campaign and then Championship.
We’re All-Ireland Champions for another few weeks before the crown will be passed on and certainly if Mayo can repeat their performance again they will end their sixty-two years of hurt. Best of luck to them and who knows, we might get another crack at them next year. Roll on 2014.