Antrim just too good for Donegal as Saffrons stroll into Ulster final
Antrim 3-24 Donegal 1-10
Antrim cruised to a comfortable 20 point victory over Donegal in the Ulster Championship semi-final on Saturday afternoon.
Played at a windswept Celtic Park, the Saffrons dominated the men from Tir Chonnail for the majority of the match and could have won by more, only for reaching double figures with their wide's tally in the first half.
Having sealed promotion back to Division 1B seven days ago, Antrim made a number of changes, giving some fringe players the chance to stake their claim for a starting place when their Christy Ring Cup campaign gets underway in two weeks' time.
Donegal started the match with plenty of intensity and physicality, forcing some errors in the Saffron play. With midfielder Lee Henderson's laser-like accuracy from placed ball, Donegal were keeping in touch in the early stages.
The first goal of the match came in the 14th minute thanks to Tipperary native Davin Flynn. Pouncing on a pass from Niall Cleary, the Donegal corner forward sent a rasping drive towards the top corner leaving Ryan Elliott no chance in the Antrim goals.
Flynn's goal tied the scores to give the Donegal men some optimism.
Flynn had another chance at goal just five minutes later but his shot cannoned back off the crossbar to safety at a time when Antrim were still searching for fluency in their game.
The reprieve acted as a catalyst for the Saffrons though.
They scored their first goal with the side's all square in the 28th minute, Conor McCann with some delightful skill to carve his way through the heart of the Donegal defence before laying a sublime pass off to James McNaughton.
The Loughgiel man made no mistake with his close range drive as Antrim stepped up another gear.
With Daniel McKernan and Paddy McGill dominating the midfield for Antrim, they were able to keep Donegal on the back foot for the remainder of the first half.
Antrim scored another 1-3 to Donegal's two points, the Saffron's second goal coming through McNaughton again in the 32nd minute and gave the Glensmen a half time lead of 2-9 to 1-5.
Playing with the breeze in the second half, Antrim came out after the restart and put the game to bed inside the first 10 minutes.
Maol Connolly from placed ball was keeping the score board ticking while Conor Johnston was causing the Donegal full back all sorts of problems with his movement and pace.
The Saffron's lead was stretched to 15 points when they got their third goal under fortunate circumstances.
Daniel McKernan played a long ball into the edge of the square but the flight of the sliotar deceived Paul Burns in the Donegal goals and dropped into the back of the net. Conor Carson doing just enough to put the Burt man off with his attempt to latch on to the sliotar in mid-air.
In fairness to Ardal McDermott's side, they never let their head's drop and they hit three successive points in the space of two minutes, but Antrim were just a step too quick for them in the second half.
Their speed of thought, skill and accuracy was on a different level to anything Donegal have encountered and the Saffron's started to rack up a big score.
Conor Johnston, finishing the match with five points to his name along with Niall McKenna and Maol Connolly were the main protagonists for the Saffrons in attack, while Ciaran Johnston and Paddy Burke were immense in defence.
Niall Cleary and Davin Flynn gave everything they had for Donegal while Lee Henderson's accuracy from frees was hugely beneficial for his side but it ultimately proved futile as the Saffrons progress to the Ulster Final in search of a 17th successive crown.
Antrim: Elliott; Diamond; Burke (0-1); Johnston; McCrory; McFadden; Maskey; McKernan (1-2); McGill (0-1); Connolly (0-10 4 f's, 3 '65's); McCann (0-1); McKenna (0-4); McNaughton (2-00); Carson; Johnston (0-5). Subs: Rooney for McCrory (39).
Donegal: Burns; Grant; Donnelly; Doherty; Boyle; McDermott; Flynn; Cullen; Henderson (0-8 7f's); Gilmore; Melaugh; Curran; Gillespie; Cleary; Flynn (1-1). Subs: Stokes for Finn (29); Doherty for Gillespie (60); Richie Kee for Melaugh (65).
Referee: James Clarke (Cavan).