Ulster Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final
Donegal 3-19 Antrim 1-9
Donegal came good in the second half to get their Ulster SFC off to a competent start against Antrim in Ballybofey on Sunday afternoon.
There was a 20-minute delay as a consequence of the minor fixture between the same two counties going to extra-time and Donegal, for a little while, looked off their top levels.
But, in the end, they didn’t even need to find their highest gears against Antrim, who started reasonably well before falling away badly.
Jamie Brennan, Paddy McGrath, and Patrick McBrearty were the goalscorers for the team managed by Rory Gallagher, who now face either Derry or Tyrone in a bid to qualify for a seventh Ulster final on the spin.
Brennan’s goal was crucial and it was hard luck on Antrim, who trailed by just a point at 0-7 to 0-6 on 32 minutes.
Matthew Fitzpatrick passed up on a great chance when he dragged his shot wide of Mark Anthony McGinley, a miss similar to that of CJ McGourty in a similar position some 12 minutes beforehand.
Donegal, though, weren’t so wasteful and with their first incisive move of the contest, set up Brennan to drive into Chris Kerr’s bottom corner for the opening goal. Michael Murphy and Michael Carroll both did some of the spadework beforehand.
Antrim, until then, were competing with McGourty and Tomas McCann in particular asking questions of Donegal, who were best served by Ciaran Thompson – who popped over four times in the first half.
Donegal went in 1-8 to 0-6 in front at the break and if it was a margin that might’ve flattered them somewhat having played against the wind, they were full value for their 16-point win in the end.
The strength of their panel was evident with Eoin McHugh, Karl Lacey, McBrearty, Martin McElhinney, Mark McHugh and Michael Lagan all appearing from the bench.
Murphy kept things ticking over in the third quarter and the captain would finish with five points in all, including one excellent effort from distance from play.
McGrath was the unlikeliest of goalscorers with just eight minutes to go. The corner-back, who debuted for Donegal in 2010, had only ever scored two points for his county before today.
But he managed to sidestep Kerr and stab home from close range with Jason McGee, McElhinney and Ryan McHugh all involved in the lead-up. That made the score 2-14 to 0-7.
McBrearty, in the second minute of injury time, added a third Donegal goal when he smashed past Kerry after an assist from McElhinney.
Antrim, who’d scored just three points from the 26th minute till the bitter end, did at last manage a consolation goal when Conor Small shot into McGinley’s top corner with the last kick of the game.
Scorers for Donegal: Michael Murphy 0-6 (5fs), Paddy McBrearty 1-2 (2fs), Ciaran Thompson 0-4 (3fs), Jamie Brennan 1-1, Paddy McGrath 1-0, Michael Langan 0-2, Frank McGlynn, Hugh McFadden, Karl Lacey, and Mark McHugh 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: CJ McGourty 0-6 (6fs), Conor Small 1-0, Tomas McCann 0-2, Stephen Beatty 0-1.
DONEGAL: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Martin O’Reilly, Frank McGlynn, Caolan Ward; Jason McGee, Michael Murphy; Michael Carroll, Ciaran Thompson, Ryan McHugh; Cian Mulligan, Hugh McFadden, Jamie Brennan.
Subs: Eoin McHugh for Mulligan (45), Karl Lacey for Carroll (50), Patrick McBrearty for Brennan (52), Martin McElhinney for Thompson (57), Mark McHugh for Ward (60), Michael Langan (0-2) for McGlynn (64).
ANTRIM: Chris Kerr; Conor Hamill, Patrick Gallagher, Peter Healy; Paddy McBride, Declan Lynch, Paddy McAleer; Sean McVeigh, Stephen Beatty; Ruairi McCann, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Mark Sweeney; CJ McGourty, Brendan Bradley, Tómas McCann.
Subs: Kevin O’Boyle for Fitzpatrick (35), Jack Dowling for McCann (41), Conor Small for Bradley (52), Domhnall Nugent for McVeigh (57), Niall Delargey for O’Boyle (67).
REFEREE: Patrick Neilan (Roscommon).