Antrim blown away by rampant Donegal in second half horror show
Donegal 3-16 Antrim 0-12
Strange atmosphere in Clones, alright. A small crowd, but even at that, no passion. A ho-hum kind of day when you could hear every barked instruction from the managers. Donegal fans could almost be forgiven for adopting a blasé attitude to Ulster finals, seeing as they enter their fourth successive one on July 20.
They did so with their customary third-quarter scoring burst, hitting 2-4 in the first 14 minutes of the second half to take the sting out of a game that was beginning to look a bit tasty at half-time, both teams going in level at 0-7 apiece.
After Donegal took their sweet time about coming out for the second half, they asserted themselves. Leo McLoone, the outstanding Odhran MacNiallais and Christy Toye all chipped in with points from play.
Antrim had been achieving a level of success with goalkeeper Paddy Flood's kickouts expertly fielded by captain Niall McKeever.
Donegal are nothing but clever troubleshooters on the line and they soon had MacNiallais, Neil Gallagher's 16th minute replacement Martin McElhinney and Michael Murphy all in there jumping against the Portglenone man.
Paddy McGrath won one such break, Christy Toye took it forward and hand-passed it to Leo McLoone, who for the second game in a row took it through the defensive cover before a cool finish to the net. Five points up in the 41st minute, it was effectively job done.
MacNiallais struck over another handsome point before Darach 'Jigger' O'Connor announced himself on the world stage.
After completing his Leaving Certificate this week at Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana, he picked up a Donegal turnover in midfield and ploughed towards goal, utilising his low centre of gravity.
He traded with Frank McGlynn before surprising everyone with a shot from distance that bulged the Antrim goal.
The lead became nine points. It finished 13. All incidents in between are fairly irrelevant. We will spare you.
In the golden age of the early '90s of Ulster football, Donegal made five Ulster finals from 1989 to 1993, winning one. They have two to their tally already in this run.
Facing them in the final will be the winners of Armagh and Monaghan, who play here on Saturday night. The suspended Armagh trio of Andy Mallon, Kieran Toner and Brendan Donaghy had their one-match bans upheld after a hearing in Croke Park on Friday, and Monaghan look best-placed to defend their provincial title.
As you might expect, their management team was here. There will be certain things they can take out of this.
For example, little niggles are still hanging around for Donegal. Rory Kavanagh and Karl Lacey were named as starters in midweek but hamstring (Lacey) and groin (Kavanagh) strains kept them out.
Down and Monaghan have already proved the theory that 'The System' that Donegal have patented, acts like Kryptonite when they face it themselves.
During the first half, Antrim employed a blanket defence, leaving only Brian Neeson outside their own 45 metre line.
They kept Donegal scoreless for 14 minutes of the second half this way and with Sean McVeigh providing the right amount of aggression on Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty rendered scoreless and eventually substituted and Colm McFadden restricted to one point from play throughout after a superb day's work from Justin Crozier, there are concerns.
Paul Durcan preferred to go short with his kickouts and Eamon McGee was able to launch countless attacks. But when Antrim did push up on their sweeper, they were jittery in a square-go aerial contest.
As Liam Bradley acknowledged on Donegal's tackling, it was occasionally reckless. One neck-high challenge produced by Murphy on Tomás McCann should have been greeted with a yellow, or possibly even a black as we have seen other referees err in similar ways.
On another day, with another ref, this could sting them.
But while the inside line only garnered two scores from play all day, the half-forward line shone. McLoone, MacNiallais and Toye were all superb.
For balance, there will also be worries. It was said that Donegal's squad was thin on the ground, but it is clear that they have genuine stars in O'Connor and MacNiallais. Funny, he is still only 21 and appears an upgrade on the absent Ryan Bradley.
Their scoring threat can come from anywhere and for two games in succession they have buried the opposition in a dozen minutes. They are contenders again.
As for Antrim, it was another day of frustration. Neeson, the scoring hero against Fermanagh, was held to three pointed frees by Neil McGee. Eventually it led to Neeson's withdrawal and his frustration at the lack of service was betrayed with a 'what could I do' shrug to the Bradley father and son team as he walked off the pitch.
They head into the qualifiers, to meet another loser of the provincial semi-finals.
DONEGAL: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath; R McHugh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais 0-4; D O'Connor 1-2, L McLoone 1-2, C Toye 0-2; P McBrearty, M Murphy 0-3, 1f, 1x'45', C McFadden 0-2, 1f. Subs: M McElhinney for Gallagher (16), David Walsh for McBrearty (50), D Molloy 1-1, for O'Connor (56), L Keaney for Toye (60), Declan Walsh for N McGee (66), M O'Reilly for McLoone (70)
Yellow cards: McHugh (67)
Black cards: 0
Red cards: 0
ANTRIM: P Flood; J Crozier, S McVeigh, N Delargy; J Laverty, K O'Boyle, M Sweeney 0-2; M McCann, N McKeever; C Murray 0-1, P McBride, P McCann 0-1; B Neeson 0-3, 3f, K Niblock 0-1, T McCann 0-3, 2f. Subs: R Murray for P McCann (47), T Scullion for McBride (50), Cunningham 0-1, 1f, for Neeson (54)
Yellow cards: McKeever (38), Scullion (53), M McCann (67)
Black cards: 0
Red cards: 0
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).