Emma Duffy reports from Cusack Park, Mullingar
THREE SECOND-HALF goals were the difference as Mayo booked their place in the All-Ireland ladies SFC semi-final, putting Donegal to the sword with a six-point win at Cusack Park.
Level at half-time, goals from Cora Staunton, and sisters Niamh and Grace Kelly sealed Frank Browne’s charges’ spot in the next stage — and a showdown with six-in-a-row All-Ireland champions Cork.
On a day where many may argue that Staunton wasn’t at her best with some out-of-character wides, she sprung to life to hit 1-6. Alongside Sarah Rowe and Grace Kelly in the full-forward line, they filed 2-13 of their side’s 3-14 tally.
In a blistering start to the game, Mayo drew first blood, Grace Kelly splitting the posts to record the first point of her 1-4 haul.
But Donegal’s inside dual threat of the ‘Supermacs’ — Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne McMonagle — soon got Donegal off the mark and well and truly out of the blocks, both rattling the net within the first ten minutes.
Things looked to be going well for Donegal, as Mayo were reduced to 14 with Fiona Doherty sent to the sin-bin for an off-the-ball incident involving Eilish Ward, while Treasa Doherty and Ciara Hegarty marshalled the defence.
Not long after, they were dealt a blow of their own though as goalkeeper Aoife McColgan — who appeared to injure herself in the warmup — was forced to the bench, after picking up a knock in a scramble around the goalmouth.
In a feisty first half, Donegal were shown the second yellow card of the day, as Emer Gallagher was handed her 10-minute marching orders for a challenge on Staunton.
The Ulster champions went through a lull period, failing to score for 13 minutes, while the Westerners rallied on, hitting five points without reply.
Of those, stalwart Staunton inspired with two huge points, while Aileen Gilroy was another to open her account.
Sarah Rowe and Grace Kelly polished off Mayo’s dominance in the latter stages of the opening half, while the sides were deadlocked at 0-11 to 2-5 at the break.
Minutes after the restart, Staunton was handed a free she’d normally nail to take her side into the lead, but it floated wide — and not for the first time on the day.
McMonagle meanwhile posted an impressive score at the other end, to get the scoring underway and edge her side ahead.
Browne’s side took the lead through centre-half forward Niamh Kelly — sister of Grace — as she found the back of the net, and from there, they didn’t take their foot off the pedal.
It looked like they may double their goal-scoring moments later, but substitute Amy Dowling — with her first touch of the ball — was denied by a remarkable save from the sub goalkeeper Laura Gallagher.
Midfielder Karen Guthrie was impressing at the other end, posting points from play and free-kicks, but Mayo soon clocked their second goal — Niamh Kelly’s shot dropping short, but it was bundled over the line, Staunton with the last say.
Grace Kelly’s potent form in in front of the posts continued to pay dividends throughout the second period, smashing home to put eight points in it as the clock ran down.
Staunton truly found her form at a key time, sending over an influential score much to the crowds’ delight at the Mullingar venue.
Donegal’s never-say-die attitude shone through however, desperately searching for a goal in the dying minutes, but Katie Herron’s point wasn’t enough.
The hard-hitting nature of the game continued as the final whistle neared, but Mayo kept the ball in hand to seal their place in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Scorers for Donegal: Geraldine McLaughlin (1-1), Yvonne McMonagle (1-3), Karen Guthrie (0-3, 2f), Niamh Hegarty (0-2), Katy Herron (0-1), Aoife McDonnell (0-1)
Scorers for Mayo: Cora Staunton (1-6, 3f), Grace Kelly (1-4) Sarah Rowe (0-3) Niamh Kelly (1-0), Aisling Gilroy (0-1)
1. Aoife McColgan (Malin)
2. Treasa Doherty (Carndonagh)
3. Emer Gallagher (Termon)
4. Nicole McLaughlin (Termon)
5. Therese McCafferty (Termon)
6. Ciara Hegarty (Moville)
7. Aoife McDonnell (Naomh Connaill)
8. Katy Herron (Glenfin)
9. Karen Guthrie (Glenfin)
10. Gráinne Houston (Glenfin)
11. Niamh Hegarty (Moville)
12. Eilish Ward (St Nauls)
13. Roisín Friel (Termon)
14. Geraldine McLaughlin (Termon) – captain
15. Yvonne McMonagle (Glenfin)
Laura Gallagher for Aoife McColgan (21 minutes)
Shannon McGroddy for Eilish Ward (21 minutes)
Deirdre Foley for Grainne Houston (46 minutes)
Paula McGrory for Eilish Ward (56 minutes)
1. Yvonne Byrne (Ballyhaunis)
2. Orla Conlon (Castlebar Mitchells)
3. Sarah Tierney (Hollymount) – captain
4. Martha Carter (Carnacon) mid
5. Marie Corbett (Carnacon)
6. Rachel Kearns (CL McHale Rovers)
7. Fiona Doherty (Moy Davitts)
8. Aileen Gilroy (St Brigids)
9. Fiona McHale (Carnacon)
10. Doireann Hughes (Carnacon)
11. Niamh Kelly (Moy Davitts)
12. Ciara Whyte (Kilmoremoy)
13. Sarah Rowe (Kilmoremoy)
14. Cora Staunton (Carnacon)
15. Grace Kelly (Moy Davitts)
Amy Dowling for Ciara Whyte (37 minutes)
Nicola O’Malley for Fiona Doherty (57 minutes)
Michelle McGing for Doireann Hughes (58 minutes)
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