They say that goals win games and that was definitely the case in MacCumhaill Park yesterday when history was made with an unfancied Antrim defeating Donegal for the first time since 1952.
I was one of those who thought that Donegal were ‘penalty kicks’ for the Ulster final but I have to say that I was disappointed in their overall performance but delighted with the emergence of this talented and enthusiastic Antrim team under the new stewardship of Liam Bradley.
Indeed, Bradley rightly receives all the plaudits for this victory in his battle with the other rookie manager John Joe Doherty as his sharpness and clear-headedness in making key changes resulted in the winning of the game.
I expected this to be a bit of a basketball match with possession and lack of penetration being the order of the day but to be fair both teams mixed it up well and Antrim’s policy of playing Terry O’Neill as cover worked but only because Donegal were so wasteful having dominated at midfield early on through the good work of Gallagher and Bonner.
Playing against the extra defender requires quality ball retention and an ability to kick from distance in order for the extra man to come out and mark but Donegal failed on both counts with poor ball handling and poor shooting and shot selection especially from experienced players.
Antrim showed greater belief, discipline and energy and you could see that they have benefited from a successful National League campaign whereas Donegal, even though playing at a higher level in Division One, clearly lacked confidence because of their disappointing season to date.
In the McCann brothers Michael and Thomas, Antrim had arguably the best forwards on show although that’s probably a bit hard on Donegal’s impressive Michael Murphy.
Playing the more experienced Michael McCann at full-forward really gave Antrim a target man from which they were able to set up play deep in Donegal’s half.
This allowed Antrim to move the ball more swiftly to the forward line and avoid having to continually take the ball into the tackle.
With this unexpected away win against Donegal, it sets up a clash with an inexperienced Cavan team — and still offers the possibility of an all–Bradley Derry v Antrim Ulster final! But that’s maybe a tad premature.