Donegal became the first team to win the Nicky Rackard Cup on three separate occasions when they produced a stunning comeback win over Mayo this afternoon, clinching their victory thanks to two goals in the space of 30 seconds with five minutes to play.
In their semi-final win over Leitrim, a slow start almost saw Mayo dragged into a dogfight in a game they were widely tipped to dominate.
Here, as they responded to the concession of the first point by taking control of the game, moving 0-9 to 0-3 clear by the first-half water break.
Donegal defended well, with Stephen Gillespie and Mark Callaghan in particular stemming the tide, but the scores kept coming, particularly from the half-forward area, where Mayo generated a lot of space and a lot of scoring chances.
Most of those came from the stick of free-taker Shane Boland, who shot seven first-half frees, all bar two of them from between 40 and 50 metres out from goal.
The lead was extended out to eight points when Boland pointed two frees immediately after the water break, but a long-range score from Joe Boyle set in train a sustained period of pressure from Donegal.
Three points in succession from Declan Coulter restored the game's competitiveness, though it looked like momentum was swinging back Mayo’s way when Seán McVeigh was inches away from making an intercept, with Adrian Phillips pointing instead for Mayo to end the Connacht county’s mini drought.
Another Boland free followed, but Donegal received a huge boost when a great run and pass from Gerard Gilmore set up Joe Boyle, and his powerful drive from 22 metres out just beat Gerald Kelly at the near post.
Mayo were still the better poised side at half-time, 0-14 to 1-08 to the good, but after controlling play in their own full-back line for the 35 minutes defending the Davin End goal, that all changed when Hell 16 was at their backs.
Davin Flynn, having had little or no possession in the first half, rattled over the first two points of the period for Donegal, and by water break, his side was in front for the first time since the first minute of the contest.
Danny Cullen and Ronan McDermott were hurling a lot more ball at midfield, the Donegal back line was now completely in control, and it took Mayo wing back Cathal Freeman to stem the bleeding with a couple of excellent long-range scores.
The contest ebbed and flowed, as a handful of very poor Donegal wides threatened to derail their win.
Shane Boland pointed two frees to edge Mayo back in front, 0-21 to 1-17, but the tie changed utterly when a long ball dropped on the edge of the Mayo square, with Davin Flynn making an excellent run across the line to bat down the sliothar then then scoop it up and apply a powerful finish.
The big Setanta player took possession off the next attack too, but dropped his over-the-shoulder shot for a point short from 50 metres out.
It couldn’t have worked out any better if he tried. Ritchie Ryan had the strength and the fielding ability to reach up and claim the dropping ball, and one quick swivel and shot later, Donegal were on the road to victory, and an instant return to the Christy Ring Cup stage.
Donegal: Luke White; Mark Callaghan, Stephen Gillespie, Gavin Browne; Michael Donaghue, Seán McVeigh, Joe Boyle (1-01); Danny Cullen (0-03), Ciarán Mathewson; Ronan McDermott (0-01), Jack O’Loughlin, Kevin Kealy; Davin Flynn (1-03), Declan Coulter (0-08, 0-06 frees), Gerard Gilmore (0-01).
Subs used: Ritchie Ryan (1-01) for Kealy (29), Bernard Lafferty for Mathewson (62), Conor O’Grady for Cullen (70+3).
Mayo: Gerald Kelly; Gary Nolan, Stephen Coyne, John Cassidy; Brian Hunt, David Kenny, Cathal Freeman (0-02); Seán Regan, Seán Kenny (0-01, ’65); Adrian Phillips (0-01), Shane Boland (0-11, 0-10 frees), Corey Scahill (0-01); Jason Coyne (0-01), Brian Morley (0-02), Eoin Delaney (0-01).
Subs used: Liam Lavin for Coyne (50), Cormac Phillips for Delaney (54), Daniel Huane for Hunt (64), Seán Mulroy for Morley (66) - Michael Donaghue (0-01, own point)
Referee: K Jordan (Tipperary)