By Damian Dolan
Donegal eased into the Ulster SFC semi finals with a commanding 16-point victory over Antrim at Ballybofey, 3-19 to 1-9.
Searching for a first Ulster title since 2014, Donegal will now face either Derry or Tyrone in a bid to reach what would be a seventh consecutive Ulster final appearance.
“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,” said Donegal manager Rory Gallagher.
The Saffrons trailed by just a point after 32 minutes, but Jamie Brennan’s goal proved crucial and saw Donegal go in 1-8 to 0-6 in front at the break.
Gallagher’s side pulled away in the second half with their second goal coming from the unlikeliest of goalscorers with just eight minutes to go, corner back Paddy McGrath.
McGrath, who made his debut for Donegal in 2010, had only ever scored two points for his county before he prodded home from close range. Patrick McBrearty smashed home goal number three in added time to give the final scoreline a more emphatic look, which didn’t flatter the victors.
Conor Small grabbed a consolation goal for Antrim with the last kick of the game, but it was slim consolation at best.
“We did not play as well as we would have liked but in the second half we showed some moments,” added Gallagher.
“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.
“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.
“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.”