SFC final: Sam is for the Hills

September 23, 2012

Donegal captain Michael Murphy raises the Sam Maguire ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Donegal 2-11
Mayo 0-13

Donegal have been crowned All-Ireland champions for the first time in 20 years and for only the second time in their history following a four-point victory over Mayo.

Early goals from Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden left Mayo playing catch-up for the entire game in front of 82,269 spectators at a blustery Croke Park this afternoon. When McFadden fired home the winners' second goal in the 11th minute to give them a 2-1 to 0-0 cushion, it looked like a rout was on the cards, 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.

However, they couldn't get any closer to Jim McGuiness' men who didn't seem in the least bit burdened by their favourites' tag. It has been a remarkable journey for them since they suffered a humiliating All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Armagh in Crossmaglen just over two years ago. But for Mayo, it's more All-Ireland final heartbreak - this was their sixth final loss in 23 years - as their long wait for Sam extends into a 62nd year.

Ultimately, the early goals were the difference on a day when Mayo never quite came to grips with the aerial threat posed by Murphy and McFadden in the Donegal full forward line. They deadly duo scored 2-8 between them and will be the two leading contenders for the RTE Man of the Match award when it's handed out tonight. Frank McGlynn and Neil McGee also played outstanding games for the Tir Chonaill men, who controlled the match from start to finish and were full value for their victory.

Favoured by the wind in the first half, Donegal got off to the best possible start when Michael Murphy easily out-fielded Kevin Keane from Karl Lacey's high delivery before turning and blasting an unstoppable shot past David Clarke for a goal after just two minutes and 25 seconds.

Mayo were rattled as both Jason Doherty and Lee Keegan picked up yellow cards in quick succession for fouls on Frank McGlynn and Mark McHugh. Keegan caught the marauding McHugh high just outside the large parallelogram and McFadden did the needful with his trusty right boot to ease the favourites into a 1-1 to 0-0 lead after five minutes.

Things went from bad to worse for Mayo when McFadden grabbed a second Donegal goal in the 11th minute after Kevin Keane had failed to gather possession after Patrick McBrearty's point attempt had rebounded from David Clarke's left post. The score was controversial in that Mayo felt Cillian O'Connor should have been awarded a free at the other end. As it turned out, O'Connor was lucky to stay on the field after he appeared to strike Eamon McGee. Both players were issued with yellow cards by referee Maurice Deegan.

With Mayo in complete disarray, Donegal could have had a third goal when Murphy fielded another Lacey delivery before laying off to McFadden. But this time David Clarke got out quickly to deny the big St. Michael's man his second major in a matter of minutes.

After a torrid opening quarter of an hour, Mayo finally opened their account through Kevin McLoughlin in the 16th minute. Cillian O'Connor quickly followed up with a free from the hands, only for Ryan Bradley to reply with a sweetly-struck effort from 40 metres.

McFadden restored the Ulster champions' seven-point lead with a massive score from 45 metres in the 20th minutes, but Mayo were by now starting to feel their way into the game as McLoughlin popped up with his second point after Mickey Conroy had done brilliantly to keep Cillian O'Connor's garryowen in play.

Donegal 'keeper Paul Durcan needed to be alert to prevent O'Connor from nipping in for an easy goal after Mark McHugh had unwisely kicked a free across the face off his own goal. Mayo's comeback gained further momentum when O'Connor pointed frees in the 28th and 32nd minutes following fouls on Enda Varley and the hard-working O'Connor.

The Mayo supporters were on their feet when Conroy fired over a brilliant point - the Westerners' four in-a-row - from close to the Cusack Stand sideline to leave just a goal in it, 0-6 to 2-3, after 33 minutes. The ever-dependable McFadden brought his tally to 1-3 with another huge point from a free on the 45-metre line before Varley hit an instant reply on the stroke of half-time.

Jim McGuiness' men resumed with another McFadden free after Aidan O'Shea had fouled Leo McLoone. O'Connor replied with his fourth successful free before Donegal's free-scoring corner back Frank McGlynn stormed forward to land a sublime point while under pressure from Donal Vaughan.

Both teams were guilty of some poor finishing before Michael Murphy landed his first point from a 44-metre free in the 48th minute. Aidan O'Shea won a soft free at the other end which Enda Varley showed great character to convert after missing one moments earlier. Mayo brought the margin back down to three, 0-10 to 2-7, when O'Connor arrowed over an exquisite free from an acute angle on the 20-metre line.

Donegal responded by grabbing the next three points to put clear daylight between the sides again. The increasingly influential Murphy drew a foul from Barry Moran before dusting himself down and converting the free from 40 metres. McFadden was then fouled by McFadden who nonchalantly slotted over from close range.

In the 61st minute, Murphy rose highest above David Clarke and Ger Cafferkey to punch a Rory Kavanagh centre over the bar. It could just have easily been a goal.

Facing a six-point deficit, 0-10 to 2-10, Mayo made another attempt to get themselves back into contention. Substitute Richie Feeney split the postz before wing back Lee Keegan landed a sky-scraper on top of Paul Durcan's net. Donegal responded when Neil Gallagher ran onto a pass from Frank McGlynn to score their 11th point.

Another Mayo sub, Jason Gibbons, kept up the pressure with a long-range effort (his first ever championship point) with a minute of normal time to go. But neither side were to score again - Mayo sub Seamus O'Shea did come close with a goal chance in the second minute of injury-time - as Donegal comfortably held on to take the biggest prize in Gaelic football.

Donegal: 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.

Mayo: 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).

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