Donegal 3-16 Antrim 0-12
Donegal turned on the power in the second half to make it to their fourth Ulster SFC final in a row, brushing aside Antrim’s challenge with ease at St Tiernach’s Park.
Even when the Saffrons went in level at half-time, the expectation was that the men from the north-west would flick the intensity switch and steamroll their opponents.
That’s exactly what they did, and Antrim had no answer to the power and hunger that Donegal brought to the contest in the second period.
Leo McLoone, Darach O’Connor and Dermot Molloy all fired in goals, and dreams of an upset went up in flames as Liam Bradley and his players headed for the Qualifiers and Donegal pushed on to a provincial decider against either Armagh or champions Monaghan.
Antrim mirrored Donegal’s defensive strategy, flooding men back to repeatedly frustrate the Tir Chonail men, who ironically appeared keen to commit themselves to a more attacking style.
Jim McGuinness’ men did appear to be on course in the opening eight minutes, when they eased into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead with scores from Christy Toye, Darach O’Connor, Odhran MacNiallais, Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy.
Brian Neeson, from a free, and Mark Sweeney were on target for the Saffrons, and Sweeney was equally effective when dropping back to help his defence cope with Donegal’s big-name stars.
Stand-in full back Sean McVeigh had a terrific battle with Murphy, while Justin Crozier used his experience to organise a tight and abundant defensive unit.
Donegal lost midfielder Neil Gallagher to injyry after 15 minutes, and the influence of Antrim captain Niall McKeever around the central area became more significant as the first half wore on.
Sweeney landed a sumptious point from long range to inspire his side, and Antrim out-scored their opponents by five points to two in the second quarter.
Paul McCann and Neeson were both on target, with O’Connor and Murphy, from a free, responding for Donegal.
The sides were level for the fourth time in the 33rd minute when goalkeeper Paul Durcan departed from his effective short kick-out strategy to go long, and paid the price with Antrim gaining possession for Tomas McCann to split the posts.
The sides went in level at the break on 0-7 each, but Donegal exploded into action right from the beginning of the second half.
In the 52nd minute, Christy Toye, a contender for man of the match, made the run along the right flank before slipping the ball inside to Leo McLoone, who chipped delicately past goalkeeper Patrick Flood.
Six minutes later they bagged a second goal, created and executed brilliantly by O’Connor, who collected Frank McGlynn’s return pass to rifle his shot to the bottom corner of the net.
Donegal now led by nine points, and pushed on with scores from Odhran MacNiallais, Toye, McLoone, and Colm McFadden.
The Saffrons did pull back points through Conor Murray, Tomas McCann and Paddy Cunningham, but more often than not, they were stopped in their tracks by Donegal’s famous swarm defensive formation.
And Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy came off the bench to lay down a marker with 1-1, firing a bullet to the net in stoppage time.
Donegal: P Durcan, E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath, F McGlynn, R McHugh, A Thompson, N Gallagher, O MacNialais (0-4), D O’Connor (1-2), L McLoone (1-2), C Toye (0-2), P McBrearty, M Murphy (0-3, 1f, 1 ’45), C McFadden (0-2, 1f).
Subs: M McElhinney for Gallagher, David Walsh for McBrearty, D Molloy (1-1) for O’Connor, L Keaney for Toye, Declan Walsh for N McGee, M O’Reilly for McLoone.
Antrim: P Flood, K O’Boyle, S McVeigh, N Delargey, P McBride, M Johnston, J Crozier, J Laverty, M McCann, N McKeever, C Murray (0-1), M Sweeney (0-2), P McCann (0-1), B Neeson (0-3, 3f), K Niblock (0-1), T McCann (0-3, 2f).
Subs: R Murray for P McCann, T Scullion for McBride, P Cunningham (0-1, f) for Neeson
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).