WHEN Rory Gallagher was asked to surmise the relationship between Donegal and Mayo recently, he declared there is “an intense rivalry” between the two western counties.
The Donegal manager wasn’t stoking the fire and qualified his sentiments ahead of tomorrow’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final by saying: “They are two of the game’s heavyweights over the last number of years and that is what you expect when two big teams collide.”
Donegal and Mayo have met on four pivotal occasions at Croke Park – three times in the championship and once in the National Football League Division One final.
They’ve always been important so here’s a trip down memory lane …
1992 All-Ireland semi-final – Donegal 0-13 Mayo 0-9
It certainly wasn’t one for the purists but few in Donegal cared by the time Tommy Sugrue blew the full-time whistle with Martin McHugh having just stroked a penalty over the crossbar to ensure the insurance point.
Donegal had lost all four of their previous All-Ireland semi-finals – in 1972 against Offaly, then in 1974 and 1983 at Galway’s hands before going down to Meath in 1990.
In his match report in The Irish Times, journalist Paddy Downey described Donegal’s 1992 clash with Mayo as “the poorest ever played.”
Liam McHale struck the Donegal crossbar early on and the wide count racked up after the scores were level at 0-6 each at half-time. Brian McEniff threw Manus Boyle from Killybegs into the fray and he steadied the ship, kicking over three frees. It was suggested that the Dublin side watching on would beat “the pick of Mayo and Donegal” but that’s certainly not how it panned out.
McEniff’s team turned on a magical performance in the final on the third Sunday in September to overcome Paddy Cullen’s side 0-18 to 0-14 to bring Sam to the Hills for the first time.
2007 National Football League Division One final – Donegal 0-13 Mayo 0-10
Having not won an Ulster championship – never mind Sam Maguire – in 15 years, Brian McIver was in charge of Donegal as they produced some excellent springtime fare to reach the 2007 National Football League Division One final against Mayo.
McIver’s side had opened their campaign with wins over Cork, Mayo, Tyrone, Dublin and Kerry and overcame Kildare in the semi-final.
The Connacht side, Mayo, were equally out of sorts on the national stage with their 2001 league triumph their first outside of the province since their victory in the top flight in 1970, with the championship hoodoo continuing to this day since their capturing of the 1951 All-Ireland title.
The 2007 league final was a close affair in front of 29,463, with three Brian Roper points enabling Donegal to go in at half-time 0-7 to 0-5 ahead. Mayo came back on terms but after a lengthy stoppage after Ciaran Bonner was injured, Alan Dillon missed a chance to put them ahead at the bitter end.
Three injury time points from three substitutes – Rory Kavanagh, Eamon McGee and Adrian Sweeney – sealed the win for Donegal.
2012 All-Ireland final – Donegal 2-11 Mayo 0-13
By 2012, Donegal and Mayo had taken parallel paths. Two years beforehand, they had both been ousted from the qualifiers in late June on the same afternoon. Donegal had been decimated by Armagh and Mayo surprisingly defeated by Longford.
A year later, with Jim McGuinness taking charge of Donegal and James Moran in the Mayo hot-seat, they’d won their respective Ulster and Connacht titles. Donegal overcame Kildare in an epic quarter-final 1-12 to 0-14 and Mayo, the following afternoon, had taken a significant scalp in their 1-13 to 2-6 win over Cork, who were reigning All-Ireland champions.
Although both were to lose their semi-finals against the old order of Dublin and Kerry, by 2012 Donegal and Mayo were centre-stage. A novel All-Ireland pairing brought huge interest to the capital but it was a game that Donegal essentially won in the first 11 minutes.
Michael Murphy’s positioning at full-forward Horan’s team off-guard and the Donegal skipper hammered home a sensational third-minute goal. Eight minutes later, Colm McFadden added a second goal after Patrick McBrearty’s attempt at a point cannoned back down from the upright.
Mayo rallied towards the break and went in 2-4 to 0-7 behind and continued to press in the second half. But by then McGuinness’s Donegal were masters and keeping their opponents at arm’s length and managed to win a second ever All-Ireland title courtesy of a four-point winning margin.
2013 All-Ireland quarter-final – Donegal 1-10 Mayo 4-17
Donegal opened the 2013 Ulster SFC with an encouraging 2-10 to 0-10 victory over Tyrone and fell over the line against Down, winning 0-12 to 0-10. However, with the chinks starting to appear, Monaghan denied Donegal a three-in-a-row of Anglo Celt wins with a 0-13 to 0-7 victory in Clones.
A 0-14 to 0-8 win got Donegal back on track but with an injury-ravaged team, were completely torn asunder by a rampant Mayo at Croke Park. Goals from Cillian O’Connor and Donal Vaughan meant that Donegal, 2-10 to 0-4 down, were all but beaten by half-time.
O’Connor went onto seal a hat-trick, while Colm McFadden’s late goal direct from a free-kick merely saved Donegal from a record hammering.
For the third year in succession, Mayo had toppled the side that had won Sam Maguire the year beforehand but again that wasn’t enough to end their own famine. They would lose narrowly to Dublin 2-11 to 1-13 in the All-Ireland final the following month.
The margin of the loss for Donegal was a harrowing one but it was something they turned to their advantage. McGuinness and his panel met in the Station House in Letterkenny some weeks later and nobody in the room wanted “to be remembered as the team who bowed out following a 16-point hammering.”
A year later, Donegal won back the Ulster title following a 0-15 to 1-9 win over Monaghan and defeated Dublin in a memorable semi-final 3-14 to 0-17.
However, there was no fairytale ending as they went on to lose the All-Ireland final 2-9 to 0-12 against a Kerry side who had run their luck to see off Mayo in a classical semi-final replay, 3-16 to 3-13 after extra-time at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.