Justifying their enormous pre-match favouritism, Donegal, swept on a tidal wave of belief of their delierous fans, claimed the Sam Maguire for the second time last Sunday in Croke Park as their fantastic start proved too much for Mayo to handle.
Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden put early nails in Mayo’s coffin in Croke Park and despite an impassioned fight-back from the Connacht Champions, the Ulster men never looked like surrendering their grip on the famed trophy as they repeated their victory of 1992.
Given the respective styles of both teams, a four point gap was as good as six or seven in another game as Jim McGuinness’ side never looked back after a blistering start that evoked memories of Mayo’s awful collapses in Croke Park in the past.
But this Mayo side are made of sterner stuff and James Horan’s team dragged themselves back into contention, reducing the gap to three points on a couple of occasions. But they never truly troubled a Donegal side whose defensive system never coughed up the sort of goal chance the Westerners needed to get back in the game.
For Leitrim GAA fans, the final was a tricky affair - provincial loyalty saw many side with Mayo but sharing a border with Donegal meant that there was lot of support for the Ulster men.
Added to the mix was the fact that Mayo’s Barry Moran is the son of Martin & Mai from Mohill, two staunch Leitrim supporters, while Drumshanbo’s Charles McManus is a member of the back-room team in Donegal, adding to the confusion.
That confusion was probably cleared up early on as you were either delighted by Donegal’s blistering start or horrified that Mayo were facing another mauling in Croke Park, but to Mayo’s credit, they never gave up the ghost and had cut Donegal’s lead to three points, 2-4 to 0-7, by half-time.
Murphy & McFadden would go on to score 2-8 between them as Mayo trailed 2-1 to no score after 11 minutes, the second goal coming with a tinge of controversy as Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor should have got a free at the opposite end but the Ballintubber man was also lucky to stay on the field after he was caught on camera striking Eamon McGee, the Donegal man incredibly getting booked along with O’Connor by referee Maurice Deegan.
From then on, Donegal did enough to stay in front as Mayo labouring mightily to get back in contention.
Jim McGuinness, who courted controversy by banning journalist Declan Bogue from his post-match press conference, spoke of his delight at Donegal’s victory - “When you are working hard at the beginning of the year you are hoping for a day like today. Thankfully that day has arrived for us now and we must enjoy it!
“Hopefully there can be a wave of enthusiasm around the county and hopefully it won’t be 20 years to win another one. It is something that everybody has been waiting for and working very hard on for a long time. We have to cherish these memories now and make the most of it.”
Michael Murphy, who came to the attention of Leitrim fans when he starred in a Qualifier game in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada six years ago, admitted that the victory hadn’t sunk in - “Once we enjoy tonight and maybe when we go back over the border towards Donegal it might start to sink in then.
“You can win nothing with one or two players and again today it was a 20-man game. Other players have soldiered hard over the years and brought us through the ranks. It’s brilliant for them also too. They might not be a part of it but believe me for me and the other players around us here they are firmly a part of it.”
The two early goals were pin-point by a devastated James Horan - “I suppose if you give a team like Donegal a seven-point start at the beginning of the game, it’s going to be very difficult to come back.
“I suppose during the game as regards our play, some of the fundamentals of the game weren’t as strong as they need to be today. Some of our decision making today and some of our basic skills let us down a little bit.”
Aidan O’Shea vowed to make amends for Mayo’s defeat - “I’m sure the boys are going to knuckle down again when we get back together in a couple of weeks’ time to start back at it. There is a burning desire to do well with this team and I’m sure we’ll be back next year.
“We conceded two goals. We brought it back to two or three points at one stage and we missed a few chances after half-time where we could have gained momentum.
“We all know how Donegal play and how defensive they can be at times and once they got that lead it was going to be very hard to tag back.”
Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn (0-1); Eamon McGee, Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson; Neil Gallagher (0-1), Rory Kavanagh; Mark McHugh, Leo McLoone, Ryan Bradley(0-1); Paddy McBrearty, Michael Murphy (1-4, 0-3 frees), Colm McFadden (1-4, 0-3 frees). Subs: David Walsh for Bradley 40 min, Martin McElhinney for McBrearty 48 min, Christy Toye for McLoone 57 minutes, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy for McElhinney 72 min.
David Clarke; Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-1), Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle; Barry Moran, Aidan O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin (0-2), Jason Doherty, Alan Dillon; Enda Varley (0-2, 0-1 free), Cillian O’Connor (0-5, all frees), Michael Conroy (0-1). Sub: Alan Freeman for Doherty 50 min, Jason Gibbons (0-1)for Conroy 59 min, Richie Feeney (0-1) for Varley 60 min, Seamus O’Shea for Moran 68 min.
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).