Roy Curtis: Aidan O'Shea was the wrecking ball to Donegal's hopes
Into the coal-dark night, irreparably broken, exiled by Aidan O’Shea to an inescapable pit of torment, staggered a shot, spent Donegal.
This was the moment the final credits rolled on an epic, five-summer Tir Chonaill blockbuster: The End.
If this was glory’s last call for the team that Jim built, and which Rory Gallagher inherited, they were deaf to the summons. Or simply too jaded, too careworn to offer a meaningful response to the invitation.
Michael Murphy rallied against his team’s fate, but the tsunami of green and red ambition would not be stilled.
Long before the conclusion even the immense Murphy was no longer a pilot, but a helpless passenger of his team’s grim slide into long darkness.
The 2012 All-Ireland champions were out-thought and out-fought, eviscerated by a ravenous beast of the West.
Had Mayo not swapped their shooting-boots for flip-flops shortly after Lee Keegan’s goal purchased Donegal’s headstone, the final margin could have been even more excruciating than the 16-point 2013 massacre.
Mayo showed a hawk’s pitiless predatory instinct to kill this contest half an hour before the final ceasefire.
And O’Shea, the winged chariot, again soared like an albatross to provide the signature moment of the summer.
There is something admirable, heroic even, about Mayo’s refusal to surrender to disappointment.
The county which has resided for 64 years in the House of Pain again showed their hunger for a new address, though Dublin and – if they survive that – probably Kerry remain as obstacles in the path of the removal van that would carry them to Nirvana.
Here, for 40 minutes at least, before their performance was tainted by carelessness in attack that saved Donegal from slaughter and will encourage Dublin, they delivered a masterclass in well-channelled, carefully calculated desire.
Jason Doherty, Kevin McLaughlin and their inestimable stag Keegan secured deep offensive footholds.
And their much maligned defence laid spike strips to roadblock Donegal’s path to goal on the rare occasions the fading northern force threatened.
The leaks which sealed their fate in 2012 (Murphy), 2013 (Bernard Brogan) and 2014 (Kieran Donaghy) were effectively plugged. Murphy spent much of his afternoon in around the square, but it was a barren field.
Then O’Shea arrived with that wrecking-ball frame to raise the house of Tir Chonaill to the ground.
It was 90 seconds into first-half injury time when O’Shea chose to illustrate the amalgam of his gifts: The power of a Panzer-tank, the torque and cornering of a Ferrari.
All through that first half there were detectable Morse signals that Donegal were close to crisis, brushing against the point of no return.
In one 90-second sequence, Frank McGlynn was hunted down and pickpocketed by Seamus O’Shea, Paddy McBrearty over-carried, Neil Gallagher sent an aimless punt into the clench of Colm Boyle.
But the Wall Street Crash moment for Donegal came from O’Shea.
With Neil Magee hanging from his shoulders, yet apparently no more bothersome to the Mayo leviathan than the lightest backpack, he rose to the heavens to fetch a ball delivered from his brother, Seamus.
The superhero catch and swatting aside of Magee was just the beginning; Mark McHugh was there to double team but was a spectator as O’Shea swivelled, cocked that left foot and let loose a silver bullet.
If death for Donegal was not instant, Keegan’s goal transferred them from intensive care to a slab in the morgue.
Earlier Croke Park proved a stony, grey graveyard for Monaghan, Kavanagh’s county unable to muster any kind of poetic flourish that might have enabled hope and history rhyme.
The evening ended, though, with a cruelly rhythmic couplet.
For Aidan O’Shea it’s one great leap; but for Donegal, it’s a long, uninterrupted sleep.