Galway scored seven of the last eight points to carve out a three-point win in Salthill, but an animated Donoghue admitted he was hugely concerned that his side could have started 2018 off on a bum note.
A goal from Conor McCann five minutes into the second half gave Antrim the lead, which they built into a three-point advantage by the 56th minute, but from there their challenge collapsed as Galway’s bench made a real impact.
Even in added time Antrim had their chances to level the game, but a touch of panic entered their play, while Galway’s big game temperament allowed Cathal Mannion and Conor Cooney to hit the insurance scores.
In front of 3,977 supporters in Salthill, this was hardly the performance that Donoghue wanted, and he admitted to being relieved that his side’s sloppy display had put two points on the board.
“I was worried. It hadn’t been a good hour. Look, with five or six minutes to go, the game was there and Antrim weren’t going away, testament to them. They brought everything to it,” said Donoghue.
“But the learning curve for us is that we know now that that is going to happen every week and we have to be ready.
“We’re at a stage where we have acknowledged that we’re behind the pack a bit in terms of our preparation and we have to use these games to look at some of the extended panel. Lads have to understand that when they get the opportunity, they have to take it.
“We had some middling performances today, some poor performances and the biggest thing is that we go away knowing we have a lot of work to do.”
Galway played into a very strong wind in the first-half but despite being outplayed, they managed to lead 1-9 to 0-11 at the interval, thanks largely to a goal a minute from the break from debutant Brian Concannon.
With Neil McManus in superb form from open play and from placed balls Antrim had slowly edged their way back into the game after Conor Cooney had pushed Galway to a 0-6 to 0-2 lead after 12 minutes at the other end.
A McManus free after 14 minutes was added to brilliantly by Gerard Walsh on the sideline, while McManus hit a great score from play to push Antrim to within a point of their hosts.
Paul Flaherty and Niall Burke pointed for Galway either side of Nigel Elliott’s point, but four of the next five points went to Antrim as they punished plenty of sloppy Galway play.
Concannon’s goal from a tight angle gave Galway a lead they scarcely deserved at the break, but McCann hit back after the restart to restore Antrim’s advantage.
In their best period of dominance Antrim fired four points in the next 11 minutes, which gave them a three-point lead to defend, but Neal Peden’s men couldn’t add the insurance score they needed.
Instead Galway upped their intensity as sub John Hanbury and Eanna Burke settled the Tribesmen who drew level with six minutes to go.
And in the closing minutes Galway finished off their Ulster opponents with two more subs, Davy Glennon and Cathal Mannion, pushing them on to the win.
“We didn’t expect to be as close as we were to be honest,” confessed Antrim selector Terence McNaughton.
“I’m surprised with the result, with how good it was. I’m surprised with the character. A wee bit of hurling and a wee bit cuteness and composure (was needed). These are the things that young lads have to learn.”
C Cooney (0-6, 4 frees, 1 ‘65); B Concannon (1-1); J Cooney & E Burke (0-3); N Burke, P Flaherty, M Dolphin, J Hanbury, D Glennon & C Mannion (0-1 each).
N McManus (0-10, 7 frees, 1 ‘65); N Elliot (0-3); C McCann (1-0); C Johnston, G Walsh & D Kearney (0-1 each).
J Skehill; M Donoghue; D Burke, J Grealish; A Tuohey, M Dolphin, A Harte; J Coen, E Burke; N Burke, J Cooney, P Flaherty; B Concannon, C Cooney, J Flynn.
C Mannion for Concannon (30-32, blood), S Loftus for Harte (h-t), G McInerney for Loftus (41), C Mannion for Flaherty (47), J Hanbury for Donoghue (50), D Glennon for Flynn (60).
C O’Connell; A Graffin, J Dillon, D Kearney; J Maskey, M Donnelly, P Burke; C McKinley, G Walsh; M Connolly, N Mc Manus, N Elliott; C Johnston, C McCann, D McKinley.
J Connelly for Connolly (27), J McNaughton for Elliot (65), E O’Neill for McKinley (67).
John O’Brien (Laois)