Donegal comfortably negotiated their first round hurdle to set up an Ulster SFC semi-final with either Tyrone or Derry, coasting to a 16 points win over Antrim at Ballybofey, writes Francis Mooney.
The Saffrons ran out of steam after half an hour, and from there to the finish, it was just a case of how much Rory Gallagher’s side would win by.
Jamie Brennan broke their spirit with a goal just before half-time, and defender Paddy McGrath netted in the closing stages, before Paddy McBrearty came off the bench to hit 1-2 to complete the rout of an Antrim side that scored just four times in the second half.
After a 20-minute delay to throw-in due to extra-time in the Minor game, which Antrim won, a crowd of 10,083 witnessed a closely fought opening half-hour.
The Saffrons eased into a two points lead early on, with CJ McGourty converting a free and Tomas McCann, a goal-scorer in their famous 2009 win at the same venue, firing over a gem of a point.
Michael Murphy, operating around midfield, began to pull the strings, with Ryan McHugh dove-tailing creatively, and Donegal were soon on the move.
Murphy stroke over a couple of long range frees, with Ciaran Thompson doing likewise as they took the lead for the first time in the 14th minute, courtesy of their first score from play, arrowed over by the impressive Thompson.
But Stephen Beatty hit back with a fine Saffron point, and they could have had a goal when McGourty slipped in behind to collect Paddy McBride’s probing delivery, but he sent his angled shot zipping just wide at the far post.
McGourty notched another long range free after Hugh McFadden had lifted Donegal spirits with a spectacular effort from play, and the visitors, albeit with wind advantage, where hanging stubbornly on to the favourites’ coat-tails.
But a dramatic sequence late in the half turned the game firmly in Donegal’s favour. First Matthew Fitzpatrick sent a golden goal opportunity wide, and the home side countered immediately for Michael Murphy to send Jamie Brennan in for a thunderous finish to the net.
Fitzpatrick, who had a 48-week ban overturned by Croke Park’s CAC earlier in the week, was stretchered off in stoppage time with his side trailing by 1-8 to 0-6.
Rory Gallagher’s men stretched the advantage through Frank McGlynn and Murphy as a game constantly interrupted by frees headed towards a tedius, inevitable conclusion.
Raucous cheers greeted a mighty Murphy point and the arrival of Karl Lacey off the bench on 49 minutes, but otherwise, MacCumhaill Park was a place sadly devoid of excitement.
It was a measure of the lack of ferocity of the Ulster Championship to date that Antrimn defender Paddy McAleer picked up the first yellow card of the series with almost an hour gone, the meeting of Monaghan and Fermanagh the previous evening having failed to produce a single booking.
Corner back Paddy McGrath poked home a goal from close range with eight minutes to play off Ryan McHugh’s pass, and Donegal were out of sight, 13 points clear.
Substitute Michael Langan swept over a couple of scores, and Lacey also got on the score-sheet, while Murphy brought his tally to six.
Conor Small’s Antrim goal came deep into stoppage time and mattered little.
Donegal: MA McGinley; P McGrath (1-0), N McGee, EB Gallagher; M Reilly, F McGlynn (0-1), C Ward; J McGee, C Thompson (0-4, 3f); M Carroll, H McFadden (0-1), R McHugh; C Mulligan, M Murphy (0-6, 5f), J Brennan (1-1).
Subs: E McHugh for Mulligan (45), K Lacey (0-1) for Carroll (49), P McBrearty (1-2, 0-2f) for Brennan (51), M McElhinney for Thompson (56), M McHugh (0-1) for Ward (60), M Langan (0-2) for McGlynn (63).
Antrim: C Kerr; C Hamill, P Gallagher, P Healy; P McBride, D Lynch, P McAleer; S McVeigh, S Beatty (0-1); R McCann, M Fitzpatrick, M Sweeney; CJ McGourty (0-6 (6f), B Bradley, T McCann (0-2).
Subs: K O’Boyle for Fitzpatrick (38), J Dowling for R McCann (40), C Small (1-0) for Bradley (50), D Nugent for McVeigh (56), N Delargey for O’Boyle (66)
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon).