BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JIM McGuinness got his players into the dressing room at half-time and reminded them, without stripping the paint from the walls, that their display had gone somewhat against the hard slog of the last month.
Donegal have turned the screw since beating Derry, but in the first 35 minutes yesterday there were bad habits of stray passes and wayward shots that contributed to a half that had the sides deadlocked.
“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,” McGuinness said afterwards.
“It did seem to come out in the wash boards the longer the game went on.”
They scored 2-4 in the third quarter and Antrim had no answer.
Leo McLoone and Darach O’Connor netted the goals while Dermot Molloy whacked in a third late in the day.
On a day when Christy Toye’s industry came to the fore in the second half it was the performances of O’Connor and Odhrán MacNiallais that captured the post-match talk.
McGuinness said: “It was great to see it. 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.”
However, McGuinness and Donegal were down some of their more experienced front-line men: Neither of Rory Kavanagh or Karl Lacey were able to take part because of injuries and Neil Gallagher left the action early, coming off after only 16 minutes.
McGuinness said: “It was nice to see them bringing the fight to Antrim in the second half.
“Darach has trained well since the Leaving Cert and it’s time when there’s a lot of pressure on any young fella and any girl for that matter.
“It was nice to see Jigger get a goal as well. He did well to turn back onto his right foot and got 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.”
O’Connor was given a rousing reception by the Donegal supporters as he went off. His goal came in between three-pointers by Naomh Conaill men McLoone and Molloy.
An upset was still on the cards at half-time, but the Donegal manager wasn’t concerned at the break.
He said: “With Karl and Rory not being in the team and the loss of Neil Gallagher, as well as Antrim playing well with a gameplan, I wasn’t too disappointed.
“They hit scores from long range and were penetrating well into the game.
“I spoke in the lead-up about them scoring 1-10 in 31 minutes of football against Fermanagh. That’s lost on people, who think that’s just soundbytes on behalf of an opposition manager.
“The half-time score reflected that and once you prepare for that, it’s not as bad. We’re delighted to have got over the line and can prepare for an Ulster final.”
McGuinness and Donegal have a month to get ready to take on Monaghan or Armagh in the Ulster final on July 20th. For the manager, who confirmed that Kavanagh and Lacey were left out to avoid worsening their respective conditions, the next four weeks will be about trying to tie the green and gold ribbons to the handles of the Anglo-Celt again.
He said: “We’ve 31 or 32 at training and they’re all at home. Every single Ulster championship match is there to be won and it’s there on it’s 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.
“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.”