Donegal have been warned not to take Antrim for granted in Sunday’s crunch Allianz National League Division One clash in Fr. Tierney Park, Ballyshannon.
As Donegal stand on the edge of the Promised Land and promotion back to top flight football, the warning comes from former star defender and All-Ireland winner Noel Hegarty.
“Antrim may have only won one game and Tyrone beat them fairly easily recently, but they have always given us bother. They are not a bad side; they beat us a few years ago in the championship and reached an Ulster final so it would be dangerous to take them for granted,” Hegarty told the Democrat.
“They always produce a decent type footballer and it is a confidence thing more than anything else with them. They always seemed to have problems too between the city clubs and country clubs, but Liam Bradley seems to have sorted that problem out. They might not been going all that well in the League, but they are not a bad side and it would be foolish to think that it is going to be an easy two points. In the past we tended to take teams like Antrim for granted and even get a little cocky and as a consequence did not go into games in the right attitude. This is something we are going to have to guard against, because it would be a shame to let it slip now that we are so close.”
Donegal are currently riding high at the top of the Division Two League table on eight points and with three wins and two draws are the only undefeated team in the division.
They are one point ahead of Kildare who are on seven points and two ahead of Laois, Tyrone and Derry, all on six points.
They have two games remaining, at home on Sunday to Antrim and away the following weekend to Laois.
And while the two promotion places may not be decided until the final day, a win over Antrim on Sunday and the results going right elsewhere and in particular in favour of Tyrone at home to Kildare, and Sligo at home Laois, would see Donegal promoted on Sunday evening.
If they were to lose to Antrim, it could lead to a whole different scenario and a real log jam going into the last game with Tyrone, Derry, Kildare and Laois all in the mix.
“It’s a great position to be in. If anyone told you at the start of the League and indeed for the first 40 minutes in the opening game against Sligo, that with two games to go we would be top of the table and in with a great chance of promotion you would have grabbed it with both hands. Really we could not have asked for better, that’s for sure.
“Jim (McGuinness) has them going really well. He has gone for youth and given the style of game he has adopted with players tracking back and working hard, bringing in young players was the only way to go. In fairness to the older players, they have adopted to the system though I doubt if they would have the legs for the game without the young fellas.
“Defensively, they are playing very well with players dropping back into that area and are very difficult to break down and then of course they have Michael Murphy up front.
“Michael is playing exceptionally well and is a brilliant target man in the mould of Tony Boyle. The goal he scored the last day was sheer class in the way he won the ball against two men and then just turned and let fly. It was a super goal.
“He is a big, powerful man and very strong in the air if anything we don’t drop enough high ball in on top of him, because I don’t think there is a full-back in the country that will compete with him in the air.
“On the evidence of what we have seen so far things are going in the right direction and now that we are so close it is important to be promoted back up to the first division. The first division is the place to be; you are playing the top teams in the country and no more than at club level it is as easy to play in the first division as it is in the second. As long as we don’t take Antrim for granted I expect Donegal to win on Sunday and be closer to a return to the top flight,” said Noel.
The fact that Antrim are Donegal’s opponents in the preliminary round of the Ulster championship seven weeks later should make victory on Sunday important also in the eyes of the Naomh Columba man.
“The fact that we are playing them in the championship is an extra incentive to beat them. The last thing Jim will want is Antrim getting the psychological advantage ahead of the championship game. So in a way we have two good reasons for getting the result on Sunday, laying down a marker for the championship and at the same time picking up the two league points.”
Noel Hegarty played for senior football Donegal for over a decade and was at left corner back on the 1992 All-Ireland winning team. He made his championship debut in the 1991 Ulster semi-final victory over Fermanagh and he played his last game in the 2001 All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Kildare. He was also a double Railway Cup winner with Ulster in 1993 and 1998.