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The inside track: Donegal vs Antrim

Gaelic Games correspondent Declan Bogue tackles all the battles in the big game both on and off the field.

Kevin Niblock v Karl Lacey

In his assessments of Antrim, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has reserved special mention for the creative talents of Kevin Niblock, who scored 1-2 from play in the first round.

While the Antrim attack withdrew to the midfield sector, their next step was to get the ball to Niblock in an advanced position and his deliveries to Brian Neeson were the most dangerous attacking ploy against Fermanagh.

Donegal will not be anywhere near as tactically naive as Fermanagh and will keep a defensive shell in situ at all times, while Karl Lacey will look to keep Niblock on the back foot. Two years ago, Lacey was placed on Paddy Bradley and was the breakout man from defence, keeping Bradley scrambling in perpetual motion throughout that game.

They will look to do the same here and with Lacey always an attacking and scoring threat while further forward, they could get something out of this ploy.

Ricky Johnston v Michael Murphy

In the 32nd minute of the first round game, Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey won a free that he stabbed forward to Eoin Donnelly.

He drilled a diagonal ball across the face of the goal. Unsure of himself under the high ball, Antrim goalkeeper Patrick Flood remained on his line while Sean Quigley nudged Ricky Johnston off balance before fisting the ball to the net.

Quigley does not have the athleticism of Michael Murphy, who should be sent to the Antrim square for a significant spell of the first half in order to put the Saffrons under instant pressure.

It is said that Johnston held Murphy scoreless from play in 2011, but it needs to be borne in mind that Murphy played very far from goal that day.

If Donegal unleash an early aerial assault, especially with Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty feasting on the breaks, then this game could be wrapped up early.

Michael McCann v Rory Kavanagh

With Antrim pushing up on Fermanagh sweepers for Christopher Snow's kickouts, he was forced to go straight down the middle and let his midfielders fight for possession. What that resulted in was almost domination for McCann, with six clean catches from restarts.

Donegal make it a whole lot harder for teams to break even at midfield, with their half-forward and midfield lines all heading off in different, pre-rehearsed runs to create the space for Paul Durcan to loft balls into space for the likes of Michael Murphy and Rory Kavanagh to run onto.

If they do need to go for height, they isolate Neil Gallagher on a smaller opponent.

Kavanagh is a mirror image of McCann, in that he is mobile, good in the air and can take his score. He was injured for the first game but reports coming out of Donegal suggest he will start tomorrow.

Antrim tactics

The game must be won without getting too concerned over the aesthetics of getting there.

Antrim have named the same team that started against Fermanagh and in that line-up many believed they were pulling a fast one, with Paddy Flood and Paul McCann named — neither of whom had played for Antrim seniors before.

Lo and behold, both men started. Ricky Johnston held Michael Murphy scoreless from play in 2011, so that match-up is a given. Colm McFadden is in the middle of a sticky patch and Niall Delargy will go on him. Kevin O'Boyle has the speed to track Paddy McBrearty.

It seems likely that Niall McKeever will move from midfield to take up full-forward, as a big man alongside Brian Neeson. The likes of Conor Murray and Paul McCann will help out around the middle, hoping to open up space for Neeson.

Donegal will not permit that to happen, so Antrim will need a change of approach up their sleeve and will hope to use their pace to find any weak spots in defence.

Donegal tactics

Seek to soften the opposition up by loading their defence and sapping the energy of runners with physical challenges.

In the strictest sense of the law, a lot of how they tackle is outside the laws with numerous grapples and grabs around the waist, but referees are reluctant to blow for these.

When they break, they do so with devastating speed and cause overlaps by running in clumps, always having a man off either shoulder.

In defence, Karl Lacey will be sent to track Kevin Niblock and Paddy McGrath will be on Brian Neeson. Frank McGlynn will start at wing-forward and drop back into defence, but when they gain possession, he and Anthony Thompson are expert at converting defence into attack with their energy.

Eamonn McGee has the physicality to pick up Niall McKeever on the edge of the square, while up the other end of the field, Jim McGuinness will have noticed Antrim's inability to deal with the high ball and will leave Michael Murphy close to their goal.

The game in numbers...

Antrim conceded three goals against Fermanagh. Do the same here, and it will most certainly be lights out early on for Liam Bradley’s men. The Saffrons have found their own scoring touch but they have to balance that with shoring up things at the back.

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