All it would have taken was one more Antrim score in Sunday evening’s Ulster Minor Championship quarter final, and Donegal’s championship season would have been over.
That is the view of Donegal coach, Neilly Byrne, after the Donegal minors scraped through to a semi-final meeting with Monaghan.
Donegal, who had only played in fits and starts, found themselves five down 2-7 to 0-8, with a little over ten minutes remaining.
“It didn’t look good at that stage,” Donegal coach, Neilly Byrne, admitted on Tuesday afternoon before heading out to training in Convoy.
“When they got the second goal I was wondering to myself how are we going to get out of this situation.
“We were five points down and Eoghan McGettigan and Jason McGee had been sent off. But fair play to Niall O’Donnell, he rose to the challenge and scored two brilliant goals to get us out of a tight situation.
“And then he kicked two super points to seal the win; he is a brilliant footballer. In fairness we had a number of men who stepped up to the plate in a big way in the last few minutes.
“Kieran Gallagher came into around the middle; the introduction of Brian O’Donnell allowed Peadar Mogan to go up front and Odhran Shields and Shane McGrath did well to set up Niall for the goals.
“Once we started to play the whole team responded and we finished strong.”
The sides were level 0-4 each at half-time, with Antrim, the underdogs, more than a little lucky not to be in front after bossing most of the opening half hour.
Donegal were very defensive with 13 and sometimes 14 men in their own half and invited Antrim to run at them.
“The game plan was to play Peadar Mogan as a sweeper alright. But it was not part of the plan for the two wing forwards and the two midfielders to drop back into defence.
“The first half just panned out that way and all of a sudden we weren’t able to get a hand on the ball around the middle of the field,” said Byrne.
“They started to run at us and we started to give away soft frees and that is something we would not be happy with and something we are going to have to improve on for the next day against Monaghan.
“I don’t know whether it was nerves or the fact that it was a first day out and we were away from home but we didn’t get going until very late and when the game was all but lost and the fear of losing was gone.”
The wily coach also insists that people are also overlooking one thing and that was that Antrim were a decent side and they had home advantage.”
“Antrim are a fair side. They beat Tyrone in the league and I know people will say there is a big difference between league and championship.
“They also won the Ulster Shield. They beat Derry by two points in the final and Derry had all the Maghera boys for the final.
“They would have been a test for any team on Sunday evening and I suppose the big positive to come out of the game was that we had the character and the leaders on the field to raise their game when they were staring at defeat.
“I think that says a lot for our fellows and hopefully will stand to them down the road, The good thing is that we are back training tonight (Tuesday) and a good few lessons learned and looking forward to the semi-final and another crack at Monaghan.”