Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

More questions than answers but Jim's lads show potential

With all the hype that now surrounds the start of the Championship, this preliminary fixture posed so many questions.

Are Donegal the real deal following their National League success or would they live up to their reputation of Ulster's great pretenders?

Are Antrim really as bad as they appeared throughout the league campaign or could they win in Ballybofey as they did in 2009?

And can we have new realistic challengers to the Ulster crown?

But the match, as regularly happens in the tense anticipation of the Ulster Championship, failed to live up to expectations with a sub-standard event littered with mistakes, poor finishing and defending to the fore.

Granted that the weather didn't help, but neither team played with any fluency or freedom, more afraid to lose than coming out positively to win.

Both managers played blanket defences, negating the option to kick long into dangerous forward lines and forcing an over-emphasis to over-carry the ball. This allowed defenders to be on top, with forwards dispossessed time out of number.

The obvious option is then to take long range points, a skill that has declined particularly in Ulster over the last decade.

But Ryan Bradley did manage to score two terrific points in the first half to give the home team a much-needed buffer.

Donegal had at least the option to change their pattern of play, having Michael Murphy on the square, but all too often he played around the middle, nullifying his impact, although young Ricky Johnston did remarkably well.

Antrim were more limited, lacking in physicality and star quality. Indeed they didn't score from play until the 33rd minute.

They are a team that need to be at full strength to compete at this level and they are certainly far from that with the McGourtys and others missing. I stated two years ago that the Antrim project is a long-term one and the baby must not be thrown out with the bathwater.

The team needs continuity and stability - and a county board that has patience, faith and vision. The team looked deflated, lacking in confidence from not winning games throughout the league.

They have a lot of work to do for the next time out but they must now re-group and focus - and realise that the backdoor offers a great chance to progress and gain confidence.

Donegal were not overly impressive but at least they are committed and display a decent level of togetherness that bodes well for later in the campaign.

This is not a usual trait for Donegal but everyone has weighed in behind Jim McGuinness in his first year in charge.

I am a firm believer that if managers are going to succeed it will be in the first year and the fact that Donegal have already tasted league success might encourage this talented group on to better things.

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