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Two scores, 200km apart, combine to leave Donegal ’embracing’ a League semi-final

Mark and Ryan McHugh, Donegal, tussles with  Mayo's Kevin Keane and Neil Douglas, at the end of the game after his team-mate Stephen Griffen, had scored a point resulting in Donegal reaching the Allianz Football League, Division 1 semi final. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Mark and Ryan McHugh, Donegal, tussles with Mayo’s Kevin Keane and Neil Douglas, at the end of the game after his team-mate Stephen Griffen, had scored a point resulting in Donegal reaching the Allianz Football League, Division 1 semi final. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN CASTLEBAR

TWO scores, posted at practically the same moment, in Castlebar and Omagh ensured that Donegal advanced to the League semi-finals and a meeting with Cork on Sunday in Croke Park.

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In Castlebar, time was almost up when Stephen Griffin – out of inter-county wildnerness after 27 months – angled over to secure a draw for Donegal against Mayo.

200 kilometres away in Omagh, Darren McCurry pointed to earn Tyrone a draw against Kerry.

Had either not gone between the uprights, Donegal would’ve missed out.

Mayo could have given Donegal no chance of a comeback in MacHale Park, but their wastefulness kept the door ajar – and Griffin’s score, deep into added time, saw them sneak in.

“We will welcome the other game now in the semi-finals,” said the Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher.

“There’s no harm in it now as we’ve only six weeks till Tyrone. We have to embrace that.

“We came down here to get a performance and try to get a result so the draw gets us the game. It was a good, competitive performance.

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“Croke Park is good exposure for some of the younger fellas and that’s something we might look at.”

In the absence of the suspended Michael Murphy and the injured Neil Gallagher, Donegal led at half-time, 1-5 to 0-7.

Patrick McBrearty netted in the 19th minute, powering high past Kenneth O’Malley after a brilliant move that transferred from goalkeeper Michael Boyle to McBrearty via Martin McElhinney, Christy Toye, Frank McGlynn and Martin O’Reilly.

Donegal had just five shots in the second half. Paddy McGrath was off target with one but, crucially, Donegal scored the other four.

By contrast, Mayo had 15 attempts in the second half and managed to convert only five.

Sub Patrick Durcan fluffed his lines with a glorious chance to seal the win for Mayo, who had Donal Vaughan sent off in the final minute, but his weak shot landed in the arms of Donegal ‘keeper Michael Boyle.

“We had loads of chances,” said Mayo’s joint manager Pat Holmes.

“Over the course of 70 minutes you can’t afford to have 13 wides and drop a couple into the goalkeeper’s hands.  ‘Annoy’ probably is not the word.

“As a group you go into it together. When the final whistle went we were level so it’s unfortunate we didn’t take more of the chances.”

McBrearty had a second ‘goal’ disallowed in the 43rd minute, harshly penalised for what David Coldrick, the referee, deemed to be a push.

Donegal managed to stay in touch and Griffin – in his first appearance for the county since January 2013 – evened the sums to send Donegal through.

Gallagher said: “We’d be reasonably happy with the league overall. Number one was that we avoided relegation and that was more or less assured coming onto day and there were a number of very competitive performances. We got our key players on the pitch.”

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