GAA Football

Gutsy Antrim put solid shift in against Patrick McBrearty inspired Donegal

Antrim pushed Donegal all the way in their McKenna Cup tie against Donegal on Saturday Picture by Hugh Russell.
From Brendan Crossan in Portglenone

Dr McKenna Cup Section A: Antrim 1-9 Donegal 0-14

REPORTERS were probably expecting a soft-focus post-match analysis from Enda McGinley on the heavy sod of Portglenone on Saturday afternoon – but it wasn’t exactly forthcoming.

When you push Donegal to within a couple of points you imagine the manager of Antrim would be very content with the day's work of his team.

Fresh out of Division Four versus an established Division One team? Just two points separating them? What’s not to like from an Antrim perspective?

McGinley, nevertheless, was niggled by aspects of the performance against Declan Bonner’s side that saw Patrick McBrearty hit seven points (six from play) and win the man-of-the-match award and Michael Murphy come off the bench to get some minutes under his belt.

Basic errors bug the life out of McGinley and assistant Stevie O’Neill.

“The performance wasn’t good enough,” said McGinley.

“There were too many simple mistakes for my liking, but to their credit they worked really, really hard. It’s early season, teams aren’t going to be playing brilliant football, the skills aren’t perfect, the runs and the link ups aren’t perfect at this time of year, they’re just not.

“So you’re looking at effort and boys putting it in and tackling hard, and I thought our tackling was really, really good but our work with ball in hand needs to get better because there are going to be difficult tests in Division Three.”

Undoubtedly, Antrim did a lot of things well on Saturday – but McGinley is clearly obsessed with fine margins especially with a keen eye on their NFL opener against Fermanagh in 12 days’ time.

“We could have done better with some of our shots and the chances we did create,” said the Errigal Ciaran clubman.

“But at other times I thought we did create wee openings and we were patient. We did plenty right but if you do 95 per cent right in the modern game, it’s the five per cent of mistakes that can still land you with a beating, which was the case here.”

At one point during his post-match briefing, reporters felt compelled to remind McGinley that Antrim were playing one of the best teams in the country.

Nodding, he added: “They were hitting scores you’ve seen them hit so many times. Look, they’re a brilliant team and fantastic to watch over the last number of years.

“They’ll have big ambitions this year but every team just needs to look after itself. Antrim has to do better than they did today. There’s no point putting in the effort they’re putting in without the ambition to raise their own level and start competing with teams like that.”

New boys Odhran Doherty and Charlie McGuinness – nephew of Jim – caught the eye for Donegal, who host Derry in a McKenna Cup semi-final in Ballybofey tomorrow night without a dozen or so Sigerson Cup-tied players.

Alongside Doherty, McGuinness and McBrearty, Caolan Ward, Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher and Peadar Mogan put in solid shifts for the visitors, while Peter Healy, home boy Dermot McAleese, Kevin Small and Ricky Johnston (until he was forced off through injury) more than punched their weight against one of the strongest defensive and counter-attacking units in the country.

Young Moneyglass corner-back Patrick McCormick would have learned loads on Saturday having been given the onerous task of tracking McBrearty.

An observation not lost on McGinley was his substitutes - 10 in all - didn’t weaken the team in any shape or form with Odhran Eastwood and Conor Murray giving the home side a greater scoring threat upon their introductions.

Antrim trailed 0-5 to 0-1 after 27 minutes before Conor Murray’s speculative effort just after half-time dropped short - but Donegal ‘keeper Shaun Patton conspired to carry the high ball across his own goal-line which levelled this McKenna Cup group [0-5 to 1-2].

Donegal responded by hitting three of the next four points between the 38th and 46th minutes – with Charlie McGuinness’s effort arguably the pick of them.

Kevin Small and Dermot McAleese hit brilliant back-to-back scores to draw the game again as Donegal threatened but ultimately failed to pull away from their gutsy hosts.

McBrearty’s sixth of the day and a flowing move enabled Donegal sub Jeaic McKelvey to put two points of daylight between themselves and Antrim.

With Antrim still pressing but finding it difficult to punch holes in the heavily fortified Donegal back-line, Murphy and McBrearty combined for the latter to record his seventh point of the afternoon.

Eastwood and Conor Murray grabbed stoppage-time scores for McGinley’s side before Jamie Brennan popped over an insurance point to seal Donegal’s victory and their passage to the McKenna Cup semi-finals.

Donegal may have lost Odhran MacNaillais and Eoin McHugh during the close season but Bonner will be content with the underbelly of his squad after recording a pair of wins over Down and Antrim.

“We want to see can these guys hack it at this level and the guys we’ve introduced have done extremely well,” said Bonner.

“Young Odhran Doherty came in for his first start and done extremely well and that’s Charlie McGuinness’s second game and a good performance from Charlie.

“But you need that balance between experience and those young lads. It was great to see the two Michaels coming on – Michael Langan and Michael Murphy – and the Brennans (Paul and Jamie) as well. It was important to get game-time into those guys because we’re facing into a very competitive National League.”

Antrim: O Kerr; P McCormick, R Johnston, J McAuley; P Healy, E McCabe, D McAleese (0-1); K Small (0-1), M McCann; R McCann, P Shivers, P McBride; R Murray (0-1), T McCann (0-2, 0-1 free), J Gribbon (0-1) Subs: J Laverty for R Johnston (30), C Murray (1-1) for P Shivers (h/t), S McGarry for J Gribbon (h/t), D McEnhill for M McCann (h/t), O Eastwood (0-2 frees) for T McCann (45), J McCann for P McBride (48), M Johnston for K Small (55), B McCormick for P Healy (59), D McCormick for R McCann (59), E Hynds for R Murray (68)

Donegal: S Patton; C Ward (0-1), B McCole, O Doherty; T McClenaghan, E Gallagher, E O’Donnell; C McGonagle (0-1), J McGee, P Mogan (0-1), C Thompson, S O’Donnell; P McBrearty (0-7, 0-1 free), C McGuinness (0-1), C O’Donnell (0-1) Subs: P Brennan for B McCole (h/t), J Brennan (0-1) for S O’Donnell (45), M Langan (0-1) for J McGee (47), J McKelvey (0-1) for E Gallagher (47), O McFadden-Ferry for E O’Donnell (47), A Doherty for C McGuinness (55), M Murphy for C O’Donnell (55), E Doherty for C Thompson (68)

Referee: N McKenna (Monaghan)

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