Darach O’Connor scores wonder goal as Donegal see off Antrim

Low-key afternoon in Clones is lit up by 18-year-old forward

Donegal 3-16 Antrim 0-12

Donegal overcame a stubborn first half by Antrim to march into their fourth successive Ulster final on a low-key afternoon in Clones.

A brilliantly improvised goal from Darach O’Connor was the highlight of a sustained attacking show from Donegal. The 18-year-old was a late replacement to the first team and produced a huge roar when he finished a long solo run through a stretched Antrim defence with a daring, well struck shot from distance.

“I was hoping for a point and then he turns back onto his right foot and hit a goal,” Jim McGuinness said afterwards.


“It was a bit of class and he does have that wee trick up his sleeve which is nice in a forward. And I think he was well goosed by the time we took him off. Because he ran himself into the ground.”

The score topped off a searing 20 minutes of attacking play from McGuinness’s side, who emerged from the dressing room after a prolonged half-time talk and quickly set about booking their place in the final. Leo McLoone emulated the goal he hurt Derry with in the previous round with another cool finish in the 42nd minute. With that score, the claustrophobic nature of the game dissolved and Donegal’s superiority was suddenly apparent all over the field.

As expected, Antrim had to replace the Johnson brothers, Marty and Ricky, whose father Richard died on Friday. The squad stood in unison for the minute's silence and then gave an inspired first-half performance, with Seán McVeigh hassling Michael Murphy all afternoon and Niall McKeever claiming three spectacular fetches.

Mark Sweeney and Kevin Niblock burst through the Donegal cover to chip fine first-half points and Brian Neeson confidently fired a couple of frees. Donegal mixed the good and bad, clipping eight wides as they tried to force scores and leaving the field at half-time slightly frustrated with the score at 0-7 each.

An early injury to Neil Gallagher, who had been smashing ball with authority in the middle of the field possibly unsettled the side: they also lost Rory Kavanagh and Karl Lacey after injuries they had been carrying didn't clear up. But in Christy Toye, Frank McGlynn and Murphy, they had sufficient leaders to direct traffic and once they broke clear of Antrim's resistance, the game was up.

Odran MacNeillis, another championship novice, contributed 0-4 and Dermot Molloy kept the pressure on by hitting 1-1 during his 15 minutes of game time. It was about as comfortable and as low key a return to Clones' big day as Donegal could have hoped for.

DONEGAL: 1 P Durcan; 2 E McGee, 3 N McGee, 4 P McGrath; 12 R McHugh, 5 F McGlynn, 7 A Thompson; 8 N Gallagher, 20 O MacNiallais (0-4); 10 C Toye (0-1), 11 L McLoone (1-2), 23 D O'Connor (1-2); 13 P McBrearty, 14 M Murphy (0-4, two frees, one 50), C McFadden (0-2 , one free).

Substitutes: M McElhinney for N Gallagher (17 mins inj), D Walsh for P McBrearty (51 mins), D Molloy (1-1) for D O'Connor (56 mins), L Keeney for C Toye (61 mins), D Walsh for N McGee (67 mins), M O'Reilly for L McLoone (70 mins).

ANTRIM: 1 P Flood; 6 J Crozier, 21 S McVeigh, 4 N Delargy; 7 J Laverty, 2 K O'Boyle, 11 M Sweeney (0-2); 8 M McCann, 9 N McKeever; 10 C Murray (0-1), 19 P McBride, 12 P McCann (0-1); 13 B Neeson (0-3, all frees), 14 K Niblock (0-1), 15 T McCann (0-3, 2 frees).

Substitutes: R Murray for P McCann (48 mins), T Scullion for McBride (51 mins), P Cunningham (0-1 free) for B Neeson (55 mins).

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a features writer with The Irish Times