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April 25th 2007

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Donegal achieve historic win - First national league title comes to county after victory over Mayo

Bloddied but unbowed, Neil Gallagher, Donegal’s captain, raises the National League trophy, after Donegal defeated Mayo in the final. Photo Michael O Donnell.

Donegal 0-13 Mayo 0-10
Donegal are national football league champions for the first time after three awesome injury-time points gave them a historic 0-13 to 0-10 win over Mayo at Croke Park. The winners had led most of the way but Mayo gradually clawed their way back into it and the sides were inseparable in the closing quarter. However, substitutes Eamon McGee, Adrian Sweeney and Rory Kavanagh sent over three spectacular strikes from distance to end Donegal’s unlucky losing final streak. Having lost ten finals in a row, they kept their nerve to win the NFL crown for the first time. Brian Roper – who showed up well on the forty in the first half - knocked over a brace of excellent points inside the first six minutes. Conor Mortimer kicked his shot wide in the seventh minute and Colm McFadden stretched the gap with an excellent solo effort, skating through the dosing Mayo defence to make it 0-3 to no score.
Kevin Cassidy added on another one – after Brendan Devenney almost got in for a goal – and Mortimer finally opened Mayo’s account in the 15th minute. The same player clipped over a lovely free four minutes later. McFadden and Alan Dillon traded frees and Pat Harte knocked over another nice Mayo score. But Roper was on hand to kick over a super right-footed point on 26 and Kieran Bonner made it 0-7 to 0-4 a minute later, following great Christy Toye spadework. Devenney carved out another goalscoring opportunity but was whistled for overcarrying. Paul Durcan pulled off an excellent save to deny Ger Brady a goal at the other end and Donegal lost Devenney through injury just shy of the half-hour mark. Harte revived Mayo’s hopes when he split the posts with a stunning left-footed point from distance three minutes before the short whistle and the half ended with the Ulster county two points ahead, 0-7 to 0-5.
Considering their dominance, Brian McIver’s charges probably should have been further clear, while Mayo must have been happy to be so close with half the game left. Two minutes into the second half, McFadden put three between them when he converted a free but Mortimer kicked a point into the empty Hill on 39 minutes. Mortimer’s fourth point arrived from another free two minutes later and the gap was down to one point. McFadden sent a shot narrowly wide after some great work but Bonner made no mistake when he surged through the heart of the Mayo defence to pop the ball over the bar whilst under pressure.
A super Keith Higgins block denied Donegal a certain point and the northerners replaced the yellow-carded Neil McGee with Eamonn McGee to ensure that they kept the full complement. Barry Monaghan added to Donegal’s growing wides tally. Mortimer - who was otherwise flawless - was wildly wide of the target after linking nicely with Kevin O’Neill in the 50th minute but Mayo’s trusty sharpshooter kept his nerve to knock over a trademark free from the right side on the three-quarters stage. The sides were level at 0-9 apiece when Mortimer converted his fourth free of the second half – this one from an even tighter angle and the No.13 was unlucky not to get a free in front of the posts when he appeared to be fouled as he took a shot moments later.
As they did in their semi-final victory over Kildare, Donegal faded out of the match, managing only two points in the third quarter and just three in second-half normal time. Substitute Kevin McMenamin revived their spirits with an inspirational point from out the field. Bonner wasted a chance of stretching the lead when he kicked a shot wide when he should have picked out a team-mate in a better position. Eleven minutes from the end, the ball bounced over the Donegal defence and Andy Moran found himself in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. However, his fierce drive flew high for a point rather than a goal.
Exchanges became frantic with the teams deadlocked on 0-10 apiece and eight minutes of normal time remaining. David Heaney made a heroic intervention to deny Donegal a possible chance, with Bonner on the receiving end of his powerful, bone-crunching challenge. Adrian Sweeney replaced the badly injured Bonner and eight minutes of time were added on to compensate for the long hold-up caused by Bonner’s injury. The prone Donegal man was stretchered off.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Rory Kavanagh kicked an absolutely magnificent point from a tight angle; two minutes later Eamon McGee scored an even better one with his left boot from even further out.
Sweeney sent the Donegal support into rapturous celebratory mode when he drilled over another great point in the seventh added minute. Donegal were home and hosed, claiming their first national senior title since the 1992 All-Ireland and ending their bizarre losing streak in finals.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan, Neil McGee, Paddy Campbell, Karl Lacey, Paddy McConigley, Barry Monaghan, Barry Dunnion, Neil Gallagher, Kevin Cassidy (0-1), Ciaran Bonner (0-2), Brian Roper (0-3), Christy Toye, Brendan Devenney, Colm McFadden (0-3) Michael Hegarty. Subs: Kevin McMenamin, (for Devenney); Thomas Donoghue (for McConigley); Eamon McGee (for N. McGee); Rory Kavanagh (for Gallager), Adrian Sweeney (for Bonner)

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