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Jim McGuinness: Our boys dug deep for the prize

By Declan Bogue

Back in Jim McGuinness' first year in 2011 when they faced Antrim, Donegal were mightily relieved to have arrested a three-year losing streak with a turgid win. There was no such nerves here.

"It's never easy to get to an Ulster final," said Jim McGuinness afterwards, perhaps acknowledging that Antrim had shown a certain something in the first half.

"One thing we did say at half-time was that the work we had done over the last month wasn't reflective in the performance.

"It did seem to come out in the wash the longer the game went on.

"Every single Ulster Championship match is there to be won and it's there on its own merits. Antrim are no different to how we look at every other game.

"We have to focus on ourselves and get a performance from ourselves and that's what we managed to do.

"We're delighted to do that."

He reserved a nice bit of praise for goalscorers Leo McLoone and Darach 'Jigger' O'Connor, who put Antrim to the sword in a blistering third quarter.

Dermot Molloy's goal at the death was merely icing on the cake.

"He's very cool when he gets in on goal," McGuinness said of McLoone.

"He did the same here two years ago and he got the goal against Down. It was nice to see Jigger get a goal as well. He did well to turn back onto his right foot and get the goal.

"There was a wee bit of class there and he does have that little trick up his sleeve.

"He was well goosed by the time we took him off as he had run himself into the ground."

At first glance there might have been a bit of a patching-up job done on the team with a few established names out, but the overall contribution of the replacements ensured that you wouldn't be able to see the join.

"They stepped up to the plate when it was needed as well. I suppose it's easy to score sometimes when there's no pressure.

"But when Neil Gallagher went off, Rory Kavanagh had a little groin bother during the week and Karl Lacey wasn't available, it was nice to see them bringing the fight to Antrim in the second half."

Another Ulster final for Donegal and McGuinness, and a bit of time to allow strains and stresses to heal.

McGuinness continued: "Thankfully now we've bought ourselves another month leading into the Ulster final and that's exactly where we wanted to be at. We're there now and we want to make the most of this opportunity." Young teams are prone to lapses in concentration, something that Antrim boss Liam Bradley pin-pointed as a major cause of their collapse after the interval.

"We knew they were going to come at us in the 10 minutes after half-time," the Glenullin man revealed. "We counteracted that. But we gave the ball away in the middle of the field twice and you don't give the ball away against these guys because they will hurt you and they hurt us with the two goals and that was the difference."

Bradley continued: "They (Donegal) did the same against Derry, scored 1-3 without reply at the start of the second half.

"We kept the defence tight and counteracted, Tomás McCann got a free, and we could have got another couple of frees before that.

"Some of their tackling was reckless enough and the referee was lenient. But at the end of the day, the two goals killed us. If you give away the ball, you don't get away in this game and that's what we did for the two goals.

"A team like Donegal is going to hurt you when you do that."

He added: "Hopefully we get a home draw and we build up a bit of momentum in the qualifiers – anything can happen.

"Our aim this year was to get to an Ulster final and we felt we were in the half of the draw to do that."

Slow start proves costly for Red Hands

Tyrone’s hopes of making up for last year’s lapses in both the Ulster and All-Ireland Minor football finals were crushed by Monaghan in a tingling provincial quarter-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.

And Donegal embroidered their role as favourites for the Ulster crown when they proved much too strong for Antrim at Clones.

Tyrone manager Mickey Donnelly was left to rue a particularly disappointing first-half by his side who trailed by 3-6 to 0-5 at the interval, Monaaghan’s goals coming from David Garland (2) and Francis Maguire.

Cormac O’Hagan and Lee Brennan were in the vanguard of the Red Hands’ recovery but Monaghan managed to hold out to win in a tense finish.

Donegal encountered no such difficulties against Antrim, a goal on the stroke of half-time from Ethan O’Donnell proving the catalyst for a power-packed second-half performance that was highlighted by a second goal from Jamie Brennan, underpinning an emphatic 2-19 to 1-10 victory.

In the Connacht senior football championship Galway carried too much finishing power for Sligo and won by 0-16 to 0-11but Cork received quite a fright from Tipperary before winning a rousing Munster championship football tie by 0-16 to 1-11.

And Kerry, too, found life difficult in the Munster series only managing to beat no-hopers Clare by 1-17 to 1-13.

In the Leinster hurling championship, Kilkenny and Galway played out a riveting draw 5-16 to 3-22. Galway trailed by nine points with two minutes of normal time remaining, but three goals in four minutes, from Conor Cooney (2) and Joe Canning, brought them level in injury-time. Henry Shefflin then fired over from the left wing only for Canning to pilfer a stunning equaliser.

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