Donegal given tough test by Antrim

Donegal 1-10 Antrim 0-7

Donegal 1-10 Antrim 0-7

Donegal did just enough to get the better of Antrim in a disappointing Ulster SFC preliminary round tie at Ballybofey this afternoon.

Jim McGuinness’ side never blossomed in a scrappy game, and will be looking for significant improvement ahead of the first round clash with Cavan.

Antrim, who had shocked the Tir Chonail men at the same venue two years ago, worked hard but came up short when it came to genuine penetration.

However, the home side was never able to put their opponents away, until Mark McHugh drilled home the only goal of the game in stoppage time.

Manager McGuinness will be somewhat concerned that his ace attacking duo Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden scored just one point from play between them, although they did contribute valuable scores from frees.

Antrim adopted a defensive strategy, despite the assistance of a diagonal breeze in the opening half, channelling extra bodies back to negate the threat posed by full forward Michael Murphy.

The home side managed just one point in the opening 22 minutes, from a Colm McFadden free, which was cancelled out by a well struck Kevin Niblock free, curled over from far out on the left wing.

The game’s first score from play didn’t arrive until the 22nd minute, when Ryan Bradley regained the lead for Tir Chonail from long range, but even that spark of inspiration failed to lift the game out of its state of mediocrity.

Paddy Cunningham brought Antrim level again from a free, but with Kevin Cassidy and Karl Lacey increasingly committing themselves to surges forward from the back, Donegal began to gain a measure of control, and dominated the final 10 minutes of the half, outscoring their opponents by four points to one.

Adrian Hanlon, Bradley and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy drilled over points, and skipper Murphy hooked a free between the posts.

Donegal led by 0-6 to 0-3 at the interval, and stretched the advantage with points from McFadden, Murphy and mark McHugh.

But Antrim frequently threatened, and created the game’s first goal chance when Kevin Brady stroked the ball into space for Kevin Niblock to get a run on goal, but he was denied by a superb Neil McGee block.

Rory Kavanagh stepped up his game in midfield for Donegal, who now had teenager Paddy McBrearty on the field for his second game of the day, having featured in the minor side’s defeat by the Saffrons in the curtain-raiser.

Antrim were lacking in ideas, and went 28 minutes without scoring, before substitute Mark Dougan slotted a point.

When Tomas McCann fired over a long range effort with five minutes to play, just four points separated the sides, and Donegal, who had appeared to have taken total control, were far from safe.

But Antrim were reduced to 14 men when Dougan received a straight red card for flailing his elbow into the face of Karl Lacey.

And the home side duly finished the job off when Mark McHugh collected Kevin Rafferty’s return pass to beat goalkeeper Sean O’Neill with a low finish to the bottom corner of the net.

Donegal: P Durcan, K Lacey, N McGee, P McGrath, F McGlynn, K Cassidy, A Thompson, R Kavanagh, M McElhinney, M McHugh (1-1), D Molloy (0-1), R Bradley (0-2), A Hanlon (0-1), M Murphy (0-3, 3f), C McFadden (0-2, 1f).

Subs: M Boyle for Thompson (20), P McBrearty for Molloy (52), M Hegarty for Hanlon (52), K Rafferty for McElhinney (57), D McLoughlin for Bradley (65).

Antrim: S O’Neill, K O’Boyle, R Johnston, C Brady, T Scullion, J Crozier, A Healy, C Murray, A Gallagher, B Herron, T McCann (0-2), M Sweeney, P Cunningham (0-2, 1f), M McCann, K Niblock (0-2, 2f).

Subs: K Brady for M McCann (41), T O’Neill for Sweeney (46), S Burke for Herron (48), M Dougan (0-1) for Cunningham (57).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois).

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