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The Super 8s format have meant the delay of the truly do-or-die clashes in the Championship…until today. 

Group 2 is over but for the shouting – Tyrone and Dublin are going through to the semi-finals and they’ll meet in Omagh tomorrow to decide in what order. 

Much more interesting is today’s crescendo to Group 1, where only two of Kerry, Donegal and Mayo will go through to the last four. 

Our primary focus here is on the Castlebar clash of Mayo and Donegal, but we’ll keep you right up to date with events in Navan between Meath and Kerry. 

Kerry are the prohibitive favourites to win that game, but Meath have shown enough flashes in games with vaunted Division One opponents to suggest the Kingdom won’t have it entirely their own way. 

The game in Castlebar, meanwhile, is teeming with sub-plots and intrigue. Much of the focus on Stephen Rochford’s return to Mayo, having left to the sound of a deafening silence last year. 

Donegal have been terrific all year and talked up into the position of Dublin’s prime challengers, while Mayo are their usual ragged but nonetheless still-standing selves.

Logic points to a Donegal win, but Mayo, the game’s greatest agents of chaos, have precisely zero respect for logic. 

This is Mayo facing into the do-or-die, and they are at their best when their wits are as sharp as the knife on their throats.

So do Mayo have another heroic last stand in them, or can Donegal, who began this decade’s remarkable run of Mayo heartbreak in the 2012 All-Ireland final, round it off with another critical win?

Get involved below the line, email gavincooney@the42.ie or tweet @gcooney93.

Both games throw-in at 6pm – so strap yourself in. 

Elsewhere, Cork are leading Dublin in the closing stages of a classic U20 All-Ireland final. You can follow the closing stages here. 

PERMUTATIONS

Right, here is Group One as it stands. 

Capture

Here’s what each side need to do to qualify for the last four. 

Kerry will definitely go through with either a win or a draw against Meath. If they lose, they will need to hope Mayo don’t win. A draw or a Donegal win in Castlebar would guarantee their progress regardless of the result in Navan. If Mayo win and they lose, however, it will come down to an issue of score difference between themselves and Donegal. At the moment, there is a single point in Kerry’s favour (plus-10 compared to Donegal’s plus-nine.)

Donegal will progress with a win or a draw against Mayo. Were they to lose, they will need Meath to beat Kerry and overturn the one-point scoring differential at the same time. 

Mayo need to beat Donegal, basically. A draw and a defeat for Kerry would leave them level on points with the Kingdom, but they would miss out on their inferior head-to-head record. 

Meath are out and aren’t coming back. Sorry, Meath fans. 

It’s pretty wet in Castlebar, but the most startling aspect of the run-up to the kick off is the fact the place is packed. They had to open gates early given the size of the crowd outside. 

Here are photos taken by Inpho two hours before throw-in. 

Fans arrive at Elverys MacHale Park Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Fans arrive at Elverys MacHale Park

Following his horror knee ligament injury against Galway over a year ago, Tom Parsons returns today for Mayo and is among their substitutes. He got by some distance the biggest roar stepping off the bus, and James Horan has paid tribute to him ahead of the game. 

“Tom is an amazing character and a brilliant footballer and we are delighted to have him back him. He’s been playing some damn good football over the last couple of weeks so he has earned his place.” 

Fionn and Diadh Scully Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Team news 

Sky are reporting that Paddy Durcan and Keith Higgins will start for Mayo. No word yet on who they replace. That might allow Durcan do a man-marking job on McHugh, which could leave us with the mother of all individual battles between Michael Murphy and Lee Keegan. 

Elsewhere, in Navan, a surprise in the Kerry team starting against Meath: David Clifford drops out of the starting XV, replaced by Micheál Burns. There’s one other change Brian Ó Beaglaoich for Shane Enright. 

Meath will play as selected. 

Hugh McFadden is expected to start for Donegal. He had a solo fitness test ahead of throw-in. 

“We’re from Kerry, we’re well used to rain”, says Peter Keane when asked if he’ll be bothered by conditions in Navan. 

Clifford is on Kerry’s bench, by the way. 

Elsewhere today, Cork completed a remarkable comeback to beat the Dubs in today’s All-Ireland U20 final. They trailed 1-6 to 0-0 after ten minutes…and then outscored Dublin 3-16 to 0-08. Read the report here. 

That comeback is only the second-most surprising part of that game, by the way. Look at this steward’s beard. 

In Castlebar, there’s a significant Sligo Rovers angle. Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton is a former Rovers goalkeeper, as is Mayo’s reserve ‘keeper, the fabulously-named Micheál Schlingermann. 

“They chose GAA for days like this”, says Kieran Donaghy. 

Rob Hennelly is starting for Mayo by the way; David Clarke is injured. 

Confirmed for Mayo that Keith Higgins and Paddy Durcan are in, with Eoin O’Donoghue and Fergal Boland dropping out.

It is pissing rain in Castlebar. 

For Donegal, Neil McGee doesn’t start. Eamonn Doherty is in at full-back instead. 

A reminder – Mayo must win to go through. A win or draw does Donegal. Otherwise, they need Kerry to lose to Meath and overturn a one-point score differential to qualify. 

Warm ovation for Stephen Rochford at MacHale Park just before the sides assemble for the anthem. 

Durcan and Keegan picking up McHugh and Murphy respectively. 

Mayo 0-00 Donegal 0-01

McBrearty jinks in off the right and swings over the first score of the game. 

Mayo 0-00 Donegal 0-02

Donegal ease two in front, Niall O’Donnell point from play. Picked out by Murphy, who rode a couple of meaty shoulders to pop off a hand-pass. 

Mayo 0-01 Donegal 0-02

Ooof. Donegal keeper Patton meanders up to the 45, and is tackled by Aidan O’Shea. The ball is turned over as Gough deems that Patton overcarried. Cillian O’Connor hoists the free high, it falls for Coen and his shot is deflected over! 

Redemption for Patton! He makes a hames of a short kick out, but he makes a superb save to deny Coen’s goal-bound shot! 

Coen drops a shot from the left horribly short, and it bounces tamely in front of Patton. 

Big turnover in midfield, O’Shea disposses Murphy to a huge roar. He pops it to Lee Keegan, who slices a shot short into Patton’s arms. This is breathless stuff!

Mayo 0-02 Donegal 0-02 

Another big turnover in the Mayo defence, Keith Higgins wins the ball. The move ends with James Carr driving forward, and winning a free-kick on the edge of the D. O’Connor makes no error and levels the game. 

Lovely move by Donegal ends with McBrearty curling a shot…into Hennelly’s arms. Jason Doherty wins a free for Mayo at the other end. 

Jason McGee is gone for Donegal, injured. Leo McLoone replaces him. 

Cillian O’Connor hits the free wide of the right-hand post. 

Ciaran Thompson hits Donegal’s first wide at the other end. 

Elsewhere, Kerry lead Meath 0-05 to 0-03 after ten minutes in Navan. 

Now Harrison turns the ball over. This is the Mayo defence that Stephen Rochford will recognise. 

Mayo 0-03 Donegal 0-2

What a point by Chris Barrett! He runs in support of O’Connor, and he kicks off balance from the right side. 

Black card for Keith Higgins! McBrearty is hauled down by Higgins as he bears down on goal. 

Mayo 0-03 Donegal 0-03 

Murphy points. Eoin O’Donoghue sprints on in place of Higgins. 

Stunning catch from Hennelly’s kick-out by Jason Doherty, but it ends with a tame wide by Fionn McDonagh. 

Replays suggest that black card for Higgins was harsh

Harrison does well to read a long ball in for McBrearty, and wins it in front. At the other end, Coen has been struggling for clean ball on McFadden. Defences on top so far… 

In Navan, there’s been a goal for Kerry, through Brian O’Beaglaoich. They lead 1-05 to 0-05. 

Mayo 0-04 Donegal 0-03 

Superb point from the 45 from play by Doherty! Mayo had possession for minutes; but were patient in front of a sea of Donegal defenders, and a gorgeous O’Shea handpass picked out Doherty, who made no mistake. 

Stephen McMenamin has been booked for a high tackle on a Mayo defender. 

Horrible effort by McBrearty. He had loads of time and space inside the D, but sliced his shot left, and it didn’t even go wide before Langan was penalised for a push. 

Mayo 0-05 Donegal 0-03 

Another great point from play, this time from James Carr! Their fifth different scorer thus far. 

More trojan work in midfield by O’Shea ends in with another Mayo free; won by McDonagh.

O’Connor, however, misses another. 

Oooohhh dear. Fionn McDonagh kicks a horrible wide in loads of space inside the Donegal 21. He reacts by putting his head in his hands. Mayo well on top at the moment but their inaccuracy is killing them at the moment.

Blimey, goal for Meath in Navan. Darragh Campion, they lead 1-6 to 1-5. 

Andy Moran is on for Mayo already, for Darren Coen. 

Woah, horrible kick out by Hennelly gives Donegal a massive opening on goal, but McHugh butchers the move with a bad handpass for Murphy. A big let off. 

Mayo 0-06 Donegal 0-03

Mayo respond by winning a free through a surging Paddy Durcan run. Cillian O’Connor points. 

It is now lashing in MacHale PArk, with the wind picking up too. 

Mayo 1-06 Donegal 0-03 

GOAL! Cillian O’Connor palms into the net, after a Jason Doherty shot drops short! 

Donegal hit back immediately, with Jamie Brennan denied a goal with a superb, last-ditch block by Colm Boyle! Outstanding stuff. 

In Navan, Kerry and Meath are level at 1-7 apiece. 

Mayo 1-06 Donegal 0-04

Donegal finally tick the scoreboard over – Murphy from a free. 

Bonner makes another change – Paul Brennan on for defender Eamonn Doherty. 

A poor wide from play by Niall O’Donnell from Donegal, under little pressure. 

Under slightly more pressure and from a more difficult spot on the pitch, Andy Moran skews a shot wide to the right for Mayo – their seventh. 

Mayo 1-07 Donegal 0-04 

Gorgeous score by Mayo. Cillian O’Connor wins the ball cleanly, he pops off to the supporting Durcan who points off his left foot. 

Stephen Coen crashes an attempted point off the post. Mayo are miles on top, here. 

Two minutes added on at the end of the first half. 

Murphy hits a free off the ground wide to the right, accompanied with a few roars from the Mayo fans. They haven’t scored from play since the third minute! 

Kerry leading Meath 1-9 to 1-7 as half-time approaches in Navan. 

Half-time: Mayo 1-07 Donegal 0-04 

Huge roar in Castlebar as the players trot off to the dressing rooms. Mayo are way on top and playing in their quintessential way – their defenders are all winning their individual battles and their tackle count is huge.

Those turnovers have been complemented with a very strong running game – from Keegan and Durcan in particular – and, to crown off the sheer Mayoness of it, they’d be out of sight but for some errant shooting. 

Donegal are way off the pace, struggling with the intensity of the Mayo tackling and the slippery, unpredictable conditions. Plus, there have been a litany of basic errors from the likes of McHugh and McBrearty. 

They, will, however, have the benefit of the wind in the second-half – but they have a lot of work to do. 

Meanwhile in Navan, Kerry lead Meath 1-10 to 1-09 at half time.

Tom O’Sullivan scored the Kerry goal; Darragh Campion for Meath. 

As it stands – Kerry will top the group with Mayo going ahead in second place. 

What twists await in the second half? We’ll be back in a few to find out…

Cillian O’Connor celebrates his goal with a trademark point.

Cillian O'Connor celebrates scoring his sides opening goal Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Second half is underway! 

“Meals at weddings brought forward and masses put back” to see this game, says Sky’s Mike Finnerty. The rain has relented a bit. 

Mayo 1-07 Donegal 0-05 

Niall O’Donnell points from play at the start of the half for Donegal, their first from play since…Niall O’Donnell pointed at the start of the other half. 

James Carr kicks a wide for Mayo at the other end. 

Mayo 1-08 Donegal 0-05

Carr scores this time – Andy Moran won the ball and found space in a very Moranesque way, Carr drifts out and loops around him to create space, takes the ball and swings the ball over the bar. 

Meath are giving Kerry a game – it’s 1-10 apiece. 

Paddy McGrath is moving very gingerly after a collision. He looks like he’ll try to run it off for now…

PENALTY DONEGAL! 

Michael Murphy is on the edge of the square, and as the ball is hoisted in, and Lee Keegan is penalised for holding Murphy’s jersey. Here goes….

Mayo 1-08 1-05 Donegal

GOAL! Murphy lashes in the penalty! 

I believe the universal message here is Game on, Ger. 

Caolan Ward on for Paddy McGrath, by the way. 

Hugh McFadden and Colm Boyle are both booked for a skirmish after the penalty. McFadden nailed Aidan O’Shea as he trotted out to midfield. 

Jason Doherty does superbly to gather a kick out in midfield for Mayo – and at a price. He is writhing in pain; Kevin McLoughlin ready to come in. 

Goal for Kerry in Navan – stunning finish by Sean O’Shea. They lead 2-10 to 1-10. 

Jason Doherty, superb today, has been stretchered off for Mayo. Horrible for him and a big loss for Mayo. Kevin McLoughlin, who kicked that point last year to save Mayo in Division One and instead relegate Donegal, is on. 

We’re back underway…and we’re stopped again. Murphy fouls Lee Keegan. 

Mayo 1-09 Donegal 1-05

Stunning intro by McLoughlin – he waves in from near the endline and points with his left! 

Mayo 1-09 Donegal 1-06

Point for Daire O’Baoil for Donegal, though it might have been a goal. For the first time, Ciran Thompson finds space int he Mayo defence, he passes to O’Baoil who lashes a shot from close range over the bar. 

Mayo 1-09 Donegal 1-07 

Another point for Donegal – McBrearty from downtown that bounced over off the bar!

Murphy is now in at full-forward, Keegan is still with him but struggling under the high ball. Will Mayo do what they did a couple of years ago and put Aidan O’Shea back there!? 

Another huge save by Patton! Andy Moran wriggled away from a tackle, came inside to shoot for goal, and Patton smothers! Massive!

Mayo 1-09 Donegal 1-08

One. Point. Game. McBrearty to Murphy, out in front of Keegan, turns around and points. 

Mayo 1-10 Donegal 1-08

Durcan responds for Mayo. Castelbar sounds like it is about to explode. This is mad, thrilling stuff. 

Mayo win the kick out and come in, but McMenanamin does brilliantly to dispossess Moran as he was bearing down on goal. The ball goes wide. McHugh kicks a wide for Donegal. 

Stephen Coen is now picking up Murphy on the edge of the square. Can that stem the bleeding? 

Oh cripes above, Carr finds space and then slices his shot terribly and it dribbles into Patton’s arms. O’Connor is down with cramp and we all have a much-needed chance to breathe. 

Oisin Gallen on for Donegal. Murphy misses a shot off his left. 

Now Michael Langan snatches at a shot and misses wide to his left. 

Kerry leading Meath 2-11 to 1-11. 

Hennelly sends a kick-out right over the touchline. Coen wins the long ball above Murphy, and Mayo come away with the ball. It’s wasted – Carr kicks a mad, wild ball into the corner that Moran was never going to reach. Ragged, breathless stuff in MacHale Park. 

Paddy McBrearty takes the ball from Oisin Gallen, and it goes wide again. An eighth for Donegal. He wants a 45 but it’s not forthcoming. 

Mayo 1-11 Donegal 1-08

Mayo win a free for a touch on the ground, by the left touchline on the ’21. O’Connor makes no mistake! 1-3 for O’Connor; three point lead for Mayo! 

Superb tackling by Eoin O’Donoghue wins the ball off Gallen. Mayo stride clear, but get bottled up and end up giving a free away for overcarrying. Donegal then go and win a free through a Paddy Durcan foul, so this will soon be a two-point game…

Murphy free-kick…drops short! Woah, nobody was expecting that. 

Black card! Paul Brennan of Donegal is gone. 

Ooooh dear. Keegan skews a shot wide with bearing down on goal – that’s a poor miss. Eoin McHugh on for Donegal on response to the black card. 

Ironic cheers engulf MacHale Park as Murphy skews a right-footed shot miles wide. They are without a score for 12 minutes. 

Mayo 1-11 Donegal 1-09 

As soon as I type that – O’Baoile points for Donegal. 

Ah, another poor miss by Langan. He had loads of time and he curled the ball wide to the left. Fergal Boland on for Mayo; James Carr off. 

REMINDER: A draw is enough for Donegal to qualify. Mayo need a win. 

Kerry lead 2-15 to 1-12 and are heading for a win over Meath. 

Goregeous, typical Moran jink precedes an ugly, atypical wide. 

Chaos. O’Shea tries to flick the ball up on his own D – and kicks it into Murphy’s hands, who then slips and the ball caroms to McBrearty, who drops another shot into Hennelly’s arms. 

The steadying influence is Andy Moran, who draws a foul at the other end as Mayo finally get the ball clear. Huge O’Connor free coming up… 

Mayo 1-12 Donegal 1-09 

O’Connor makes no mistake! 

Also – we forgot to mention that before the ‘Chaos’ update, Seamie O’Shea crazily picked the ball up off the ground in front of his own goal, but somehow nobody spotted it. 

Mayo 1-12 Donegal 1-10 

Murphy points to haul Donegal back into it. 

Just the seven minutes added time to be played. 

Mayo 1-13 Donegal 1-10 

Mayo strike back – Andy Moran fists over the bar having picked out by Boland. 

Matt Ruane is on for Seamie O’Shea. 

Mayo 1-14 Donegal 1-10

Moran scores another point! This is sensational stuff from Moran, he is single-handedly holding this lead for Mayo! 

Ryan McHugh gone; Eoin McGettigan on. 

Oh God, horror wide by McLoone from close range, and he knows all about it. 

Ryan McHugh is still out there by the way, our bad. 

Four point game, four minutes left, Mayo need to win and Donegal can afford to draw. This all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know. 

Murphy wins a free on the 45. Will he point it – or aim for the square!? 

Jesus – he’s done neither and gone and put it wide. Mayo are almost home…

James Durcan replaces Cillian O’Connor. 

Scrappy kick off bounces off a series of players in midfield, but Donegal win a free. They go long for Murphy…and Keegan does superbly to win it above him! A huge moment! 

Mayo break 2 on 2, McDonagh however lashes a shot wide of the far post with Moran wide open! That would have sealed it! 

IT’S ALL OVER! 

MAYO ARE STILL STANDING! 

Remarkably, Mayo are into an eighth semi-final in nine years and Donegal, the Ulster champions are out. This was one of Donegal’s poorest performances of the year, but credit Mayo – this was a quintessential performance based on a phenomenal defensive workrate, oodles of turnovers, a powerful running game and, above all, the ball-winning ability of Andy Moran. 

There were big performances too from Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Cillian O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea and, above the rest of them, Paddy Durcan. 

A disappointing end to the year for Donegal, but Mayo progress to face either Tyrone or the Dubs at Croke Park next week. 

They finish second in the group, with Kerry progressing as group winners by beating Meath 2-18 to 1-13. 

Mayo, the great survivors, will go to the well at least once more in this championship.

Thanks for following us, reports and reaction from Castlebar are coming up very shortly on The42

Bye! 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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