It took a while but Donegal finally got the better of Antrim in a gripping Ulster Minor Championship game in Corrigan Park, Belfast.
In a frenetic second half, Donegal suffered the loss of Eoghan McGettigan (to a red card) and Jason McGee and Seaghan Ferry to black cards, but still came through thanks to a wonderful display from man of the match, Niall O’Donnell, who finished the game with a personal tally of 2-5, all from play.
It didn’t look good when Donegal lost McGettigan for an off the ball incident less than three minutes into the second half, but they showed great battling qualities.
They got off to the perfect start with Niall O’Donnell pointing on 17 seconds. Indeed, it could have been even better as Jason McGee won the throw-in and found Eoghan McGettigan, who spotted O’Donnell’s run and his effort just shaved the crossbar.
Donegal didn’t score again until the 11th minute. Antrim had a couple of chances before Dermot McErlain from a 40m free on 9 minutes, levelled matters.
Aidan McLaughlin put Donegal back in front after a good move along the wing started by Odhran Shiels on 11 minutes. Donegal got a third point when Jason McGee pointed a free from 40m after Enda McCormick was fouled. Antrim full-forward Kevin Small narrowed the gap to the minimum from a free from near the sideline on 16 minutes.
Donegal increased the margin with a Peadar Mogan free on 20 mintues after O’Donnell was fouled. Mogan was employed as a sweeper.
Antrim got the last two scores of the half. Eoin Nagle with a great point from play from distance on 21 minutes and Michael Hagan, a minute later, landed the leveller from close to goal.
Both sides had chances late in the half. Kieran Gallagher drove wide after a quick Jason McGee free. Donegal were very defensive in the opening half with 13 men behind the ball at times. As a result Antrim won a lot of frees with the free count 10-4 in Antrim’s favour.
Half-time: Donegal 0-4, Antrim 0-4.
Donegal were hit with a double blow on the start, firstly losing McGettigan and then Eamon Fyffe hit Antrim’s first goal on 35 minutes and he added a point immediately to open a four point gap.
Niall O’Donnell replied with a point but then Donegal lost Jason McGee to a black card. Antrim were also reduced to 14 early in the second half when corner back Paul Mulholland picked up a black card to go with a yellow from the first half.
Seaghan Ferry from long range and Niall O’Donnell with another good score got Donegal back within a point. Fyffe and Peadar Mogan traded points before Fyffe struck for Antrim’s second goal and a 2-6 to 0-8 lead on 48 minutes.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man and Niall O’Donnell struck for a brace of goals inside two minutes before the 51st minute to get Donegal back in front.
While Fyffe narrowed the gap, Donegal were not to be denied and O’Donnell capped a great display with the final two points.
Donegal: Gavin Mulreany; Seaghan Ferry (0-1), Aaron McCrea, Mark Curran; Odhran Shiels, JD Boyle, Aidan McLaughlin (0-1); Jason McGee (0-1,f), Kieran Gallagher (0-1); Nathan Boyle, Niall O’Donnell (2-5), Enda McCormick; Odhran Ferry McFadden, Eoghan McGettigan, Peadar Mogan (0-2,1f). Subs., Shane McGrath for J McGee black 35; Brian O’Donnell for McCormick 48; Ryan Connors for Ferry McFadden black 53.
Antrim: Gerard Smith; Marcus Donnelly, Sean Kelly, Paul Mulholland; Patrick Finnegan, Patrick McCormick, Darren McCormick; Niall McKeown, Joe Maybin; Eoghan McCabe, Dermot McErlain (0-1f), Eoin Nagle (0-1); Malachi Doherty, Kevin Small (0-1,f), Michael Hagan (0-1). Subs., Eamon Fyffe (2-3)for M Hagan 25; Joseph Finnegan for K Small 48; Michael McNamee for Maybin 49; Matthew Hamill for Kelly 54; Seanchan Duffin for McErlain 59.
Referee: Maggie Farrelly (Cavan)