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Qualifiers offer little consolation to Antrim

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Over and out: Antrim boss Liam Bradley shows his disappointment after his Ulster Championship dream was ended by Donegal

Over and out: Antrim boss Liam Bradley shows his disappointment after his Ulster Championship dream was ended by Donegal

Over and out: Antrim boss Liam Bradley shows his disappointment after his Ulster Championship dream was ended by Donegal

The notion that entry to the All-Ireland football qualifiers affords comfort and consolation to provincial championship losers was not so much played down as virtually eradicated at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey yesterday.

The shredding of an Ulster title dream precipitated utter devastation and all-consuming anguish in an Antrim dressing-room that a couple of hours earlier had been bathed in optimism and vitality.

If manager Liam Bradley looked shell-shocked it was not so much because Donegal had wielded considerable authority over his side but because they themselves had failed to realise their full potential in a championship environment.

"We were well in the match but then it slipped away from us. We are capable of a lot better than that but we did not perform to the level of which I know the players are capable," reflected Bradley.

"I know the weather did not help matters but you have to be able to cope with conditions.

"We were still very hopeful at half-time but we were not able to put scores on the board and that's very important.

"I thought my defence played very well and they were able to restrict Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden in terms of scoring from play. But the fact that we could not create scoring chances ourselves ultimately told against us," he added.

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Centre-half-back Justin Crozier, along with skipper Kevin O'Boyle and wing-back Tony Scullion, led Antrim's limited resistance to the Donegal onslaught in the second-half in particular and Crozier admitted that the team's inability to penetrate up front had cost them dearly.

"We were not able to set anything up or to put real pressure on the Donegal defence.

"We worked our way back into the game after they dominated the opening minutes but we could not build on our efforts and that was disappointing," said Crozier.

And he conceded that "basic errors" had resulted in squandered possession that allowed Jim McGuinness' side to launch counter-thrusts.

"We knew in advance that Donegal were going to make it very difficult for us by putting as many as 12 players behind the ball but we were still not able to break them down.

"Having said that I thought that we put in a lot of good tackling and covering work but they were still able to come at us," explained Crozier. The last few minutes of the game saw Antrim suffer a double whammy when Mark Dougan was sent off just prior to Mark McHugh slotting in the only goal of the match to clinch victory.

"That was a real sickener for us. We had just scored two points immediately before that and we might have been able to finish better but those two blows just killed us off," admitted Crozier.

A rather different atmosphere prevailed in the Donegal dressing-room although manager McGuinness was more relieved than delighted that his team had come out on top. "When you have had a poor run in the Championship for a few years you will take any win and we are just glad to have got over this hurdle.

"I thought that we finished strongly but we need to learn from this. It's matches like these that challenge players and encourage them to become even better and that's what we want to see happen," declared McGuinness.

His No 2, former Fermanagh star Rory Gallagher, who won an All-Ireland club medal with St Gall's last year and played alongside several of the Antrim players in that side, felt Donegal's strong finish proved crucial.

"Our main objective was to get a result against Antrim but we have to now analyse our performance and learn from it.

"The wind was very treacherous and it was a very scrappy game. It's great to be in the next round though," said Gallagher.

Skipper Michael Murphy echoed Gallagher's sentiments, suggesting that the wind and rain had not helped the standard of play overall.

"It was very hard going throughout but we are happy to take the win. We will take positives from the game but we also know that we have work to do before we face Cavan.

"They will have watched this game and will be doing their homework so we have to be ready for that challenge," stated Murphy, at 21 the youngest county football skipper in the country.


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