Donegal manager Rory Gallagher
Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher, expressed satisfaction with the win over Antrim, but he also admitted that it was a game Donegal expected to win.
“The reality is that we fully expected to win. We are operating out of Division One, Antrim were relegated to Division Four and had a difficulty in the last ten days,” was the Donegal manager’s first reaction to the 16 point win over the Saffrons.
And he also insisted that Donegal did not perform as well as he would have liked and have work to do ahead of the semi-final.
“We did not play as well as we would have liked but in the second half we showed some moments.”
Despite Antrim’s bright start and early points from CJ McGourty and Tomás McCann, he admitted he was never really worried.
“They never really opened up too much of a lead. In fairness, Tomás looked very sharp inside and CJ nailed three very good frees but we weathered the storm and once we got the goal we were in a great position.”
The Donegal boss was happy to be five up at half-time and knowing they had the advantage of the breeze in the second half.
“We would have felt going out there that it was a five six-point breeze. We played here often enough and while it was not gale-force, we know it was worth four or five points.”
Donegal were the hottest of hottest favourites for yesterday’s tie against the Saffrons.
But Gallagher insisted that regardless of the opposition Donegal’s preparations are always the same.
“We prepare very well; that is why we have been so successful in the first round over the last number of years.
“We expected to win; we have very talented footballers and that is why we operate in that division.
“We expected nerves; we had five players making their debut, seven making their first start in a championship game and we expected that it would take time for them to bed in.
“We were fortunate that Jamie got the goal and that gave us a cushion.”
It was any easy game for Donegal to work their way into a championship.
“It worked out that way. When you score 3-19, it was fairly comfortable.”
Paddy McBrearty was named in the starting team, but was replaced before the throw-in by Caolan Mulligan.
“Paddy got injured in the Roscommon game and he has been working his way back to fitness and getting into form.”
The manager feels that McBrearty will have benefitted from the run out and should be in a better place to start the next day.
“He will be moving in the right direction, he looked very sharp there, he looked hungry.
“He has worked very hard, it was just disappointing that he picked up that injury against Roscommon which turned out to be a wee bit more serious than we thought at the time.”
Experienced players Karl Lacey, Martin McElhinney and Eoin McHugh were also introduced from the bench in the second.
“Since I have become manager, I would have picked them nearly every day when they were fit.
“The reality is that they missed chunks of training and they are working their way back to fitness and we made the decision that the other players had more in their legs.”
Gallagher also feels the Donegal squad is as strong as it has been in years.
“We won an All-Ireland using a couple of subs. It was David Walsh and Martin McElhinney who came in. The top teams have got a really good bench.
“It’s no secret we’re carrying a big squad. The young fellas that came in, they did well in the league and today again. Time will tell how strong this squad is.”
He also dismissed the notion that Ulster football had gone soft in light of Monaghan’s big win over Fermanagh on Saturday night and Donegal’s easy win over Antrim and very few yellow cards.
“Donegal won't be soft. When you have divisional differences you don’t expect it to be tooing and froing.
“I remember going to watch Fermanagh on a lot of dark days and there was no yellow cards and they were sent home well beaten.
“At the end of the day, Antrim, and no disrespect to them, will be operating in Division Four next year. They’ve had a tough week. We’d like to think that we’re one of the top teams in the province and one of the top teams in the country.
“If those games aren’t tight then they can be relatively easy for the referees so the referees will be happy.”
And regardless of the ease of Donegal’s win the manager still felt the team will have benefitted from the outing.
“It’s good to get championship games under guys’ belts. I think we had seven guys starting championship games for the first time. That’s a huge amount. It will stand to us.
“We have four weeks now training to get our performance levels up. It can be difficult in Donegal with 13 fellas in Dublin and with fellas in Belfast. “Exams are finishing up this week. We’re looking forward to that,” said Gallagher.