By Mike Fitzpatrick
If somebody had mentioned these two sides battling for the Junior Football crown a few months back, many eyebrows would have been raised. The highly regarded Rockland side were originally tipped for the title but were seen off by an underrated Donegal team last weekend. Another hot tip for the much heralded breakthrough to senior football was the highly regarded Rangers team, but Sunday’s other finalist, Mayo, put paid to their hopes in the other Junior semifinal.
And so it was that Donegal faced Mayo in what was the deciding junior football game of the season at Gaelic Park. Neither side grabbed a hold of the game in the early stages, with both teams plowing forward in search of points, resulting in a to-ing and fro-ing of the lead. Raymond Kane opened the scoring for Donegal with a point only for the excellent Maurice Sheridan to equalize moments later. Mayo’s Collie Burke shimmed through the Donegal backline to open up a 1-point lead for his team, only for Marty Moss to snatch a leveling point within minutes. Sheridan hit another two for Mayo, but Ronan Rocks of Donegal replied with a point of his own both times. And so it was, four points apiece until Rocks found his stride and began to weave his midfield artistry, and really impose his talents on the game. After some excellent teamwork involving the ever running Gary Dowd and the tireless Anton Diver, Rocks scored three consecutive points for Donegal and involved himself in the move where Diver passed to Coyle to open up a 4-point Donegal lead going into the interval.
Mayo went out seeking revenge in the second half, and but for some fantastic goalkeeping from the imposing figure of Frank Molloy, would certainly have lessened Donegal’s lead to a point. With Ollie Flynn bearing down on goal Molloy spread his massive frame and saved Flynn’s goalbound effort. Gary Dowd proved to be of amazing stamina and kept hustling the tiring Mayo side and grabbed a couple of deserved points for his side. After Sheridan and Fergal Costelloe had stolen some scores for Mayo, Sheridan’s point resulted in some lackluster defending on Donegal’s part catching a kickout obviously not intended for him and shooting high over the bar.
Donegal’s Dowd came close in the last quarter with a well-aimed shot at goal only to be thwarted by Mayo’s cornerback, Tom Maher. This surely would have sealed the result in Donegal’s favor. Ollie Flynn hit one over for Mayo in what was rapidly turning into a losing battle for his side.
Anton Diver, Rocks and Coyle shared a point each in the dying minutes to clinch victory for Larry McGrath’s talented Donegal side. Mayo had proved themselves worthy opponents to every side they faced on their run in and with talents such as Niall Coogan, Tom Maher and James Prenty, they surely will be back.
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Donegal: Frank "Chief" Molloy, Mark McGill, Kenny R’, Mark McClafferty, Owen McGrath, Enda Lohan, Sean White, Ronan Rocks (0-6), Gary Dowd (0-2), Raymond Kane (0-1), Pearse Coyle (0-1), Tadhg Donovan, Marty Moss (0-1), Sean Boylan (0-2), Anton Diver (0-1).
Mayo: Dermot Fleming, Seamus Burke, Tom Maher, Tom Burke, Fergal Costelloe (0-1), Dave Hyland, Anthony McDermott, James Prenty, Niall Coogan, Willie Dempsey, Collie Burke (0-1), Ollie Flynn (0-1), John Browne, Mick Higgins, Maurice Sheridan (0-5).