Posted by Shane Stapleton at Croke Park

Donegal could hit the wall after this defeat to a Mayo side that showed the stuff of champions

Mayo v Donegal - 2013 Quarter FinalIt was an exit not befitting of an All-Ireland champion.

MAYO 4-17 DONEGAL 1-10
There was all talk in the week before this All-Ireland quarter-final, but very little affirmative action from Donegal. The accusations beforehand were bitter and, considering the result, seemed an act of desperation. Referee Joe McQuillan, even if he wanted, could not have changed the result here, such was Mayo’s absolute iron-fistedness. 

Jim McGuinness has done an incredible job to take what had been an ailing county to the top of the game but the descent has been rapid. His first act as an All-Ireland winning manager was to grind an axe against a journalist who he had ejected from the post-match press conference in September last year — the negativity of this past week completed the circle. To be fair, McGuinness was engaging and gracious in the post-match press conference, congratulating the better side. 

The real issue for Donegal is that they don’t have the panel when resources become stretched, as they have with injuries this season. Karl Lacey came on for Anthony Thompson after 24 minutes but was visibly struggling to get about the pitch within minutes – for all the world, he was straining across the turf with the unsteady gait of distance runner Paula Radcliffe. You had to feel sorry for Lacey, giving his all but knowing it was achieving little to nothing against stronger stags.

In the first half, not one of the five Donegal forwards — with Mark McHugh (0-1) essentially in defence scored from play; five of Mayo’s did, to the tune of 1-7. The All-Ireland champions got all four of their first-half scores between the eighth and 16th minutes – with a Michael Murphy free freakishly bouncing over to set the ball rolling.

And in that, we got a reminder of how much has changed in 12 months: this time last year, Colm McFadden drove in a sideline against Kerry and it ended up in the net.

When these sides met in last year’s final, Donegal did all the hard work in the opening stages with a couple of goals from Murphy and McFadden; Mayo had 1-3 up on the board inside six minutes and even after the lead was halved, Donal Vaughan’s goal highlighted the fallibility of this Donegal challenge. From a team that didn’t give away goal chances, now they were parting for the Green and Red sea all too often.

Mayo had verve, vim and precision. Of their 17 first-half chances, 12 were put away for a return of 2-10 (16 points). That’s the stuff of champions, and they’ve now put out a Sam Maguire holder for a third year running. The second half was simply a matter of playing out 35 minutes and seeing how many red cards there would be – just one straight dismissal to Eamon McGee, as it happened. Aidan O’Shea went for a second yellow but the ovation to which he exited was a reminder of his 70-minute strangling of Donegal.

The All-Ireland champions looked a drained side. Perhaps McGuinness strained as much as he could out of this team in the last two seasons, to the point that there was nothing left in them. Once the bodies began to tire and break down (in terms of injuries), the cracks began to show.

They may bounce back and win Sam Maguire in 2014, but it would be no shock to see them fall back in with the chasing pack either. There has been little this year to suggest they could retain their title and you would struggle to identify too much coming through for the immediate future.

As McGuinness explained in relation to the injuries to the likes of Lacey and Mark McHugh: “Instead of managing a team, we were managing a situation.”

The worry for Mayo is whether they will go into the semi-final against Tyrone thinking they are better than they are. Are they are good as the margin and manner of this win suggests? Or did they just unload the Gatling gun on a prone corpse?

Either way, they have expectation now after thrashing last year’s champ. 

KERRY 0-15 CAVAN 0-9
It was the very definition of winning pulling up. Sure, Cavan made something of a game of it in the second half but once Kerry had amassed double digits by minute 31, they could have declared at that.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side went 0-10 to 0-2 ahead at that point, were playing within in themselves and go into a semi-final with Dublin unsure of where they are at.

What they probably do know is that Kieran Donaghy is unlikely to provide the answer at full-forward, or that his performance against the Breffni Blues just won’t do in an All-Ireland semi.

Cavan weren’t troubled by him for the most part, with the notable exception being the fielding of one high ball in the fifth minute that should have resulted in a penalty.

As Cork found out against Dublin, too often lobbing high balls into the square results in good possession being turned into 50-50 ball — at best.

That a Cavan man — full-back Rory Dunne — won man of the match tells a story of a Kingdom side with no real standout performers. This game didn’t tell us a whole lot about Kerry.

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