Complacency Donegal's biggest enemy
Mark McHugh bristles when it is suggested to him that Donegal's victory over Down had been taken for granted among the wider GAA public.
It booked their passage to their third consecutive Ulster final, but the manner in which it had been discussed from within his own county boundaries clearly unsettled the Kilcar man, who played an important role on Sunday, constantly cutting out through balls until Down decided they needed a game based more on physical power to break through tackles.
"I didn't like the attitude of the Donegal supporters during the week at all," said McHugh.
"Everybody I was meeting on the street, they were just assuming that we were going to win this game easy and it is not like that in football."
He added, "They just took it for granted that we would. But in the dressing room, Jim (McGuinness) and Rory (Gallagher) didn't take it for granted. We knew exactly the battle we were going to come up against and we stood up to that."
While pleased to come out on the right side of the result, there will be some areas of concern for the All-Ireland champions. Last year they defeated Down by eleven points in the Ulster final and with a better defensive structure, Down narrowed that gap to three points. More significantly, this was a game that Donegal did not control to their usual degree.
"We might not be totally happy with the overall performance," was McHugh's assessment.
As pointed out by Ryan McMenamin on these pages yesterday, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and Down mirrored Donegal in their formation. They gave a glimpse of how Donegal can be 'got at', but McHugh says that facet of the game will not trouble the panel.
On Down manning the barricades with more staff, he replied, "Down had to because they got such a beating in the second half last year. It is a sign of a good team. I don't know what way teams are going to approach us.
"Every team we face, we don't look at how they are going to approach us, we look at what we are going to approach them and that is what we are going to do with every match."
In the end, it was the experience, calmness and authority that comes with winning an All-Ireland that helped Donegal through the tight times.
"Maybe that stood to us in the second-half, the boys, Michael (Murphy) and Colm (Mc Fadden), were brilliant today. Any opportunity they got at all they put it straight over the bar which gave a wild boost to us at the back when these boys get the ball and they can just tap it over the bar.
"We did well in defence too and maybe there was a wee lack of composure from Down. We will look at that, our defence did well and we limited their attack to the amount of chances they got and that was one of the reasons we won the game."
The challenge of the Mourne men also impressed Anthony Thompson, who played a fire-fighting role, pushing up on Down's Peter Turley for kickouts and working frantically in the backline.
"We found them hard to break down. But in the end our forwards kicked those points when we needed it."
He continued, "We mark ourselves on our workrate and again, I think you seen it out there again today. Every man works extremely hard and that's what got us over the line; we needed to."
With Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher unable to start, along with Ryan Bradley and Frank McGlynn being replaced, Thompson felt it was a good demonstration of the strength of their squad.
"That comes with a game of football and every man putting their body on the line, you pick up knocks here and there. But we have a strong panel, a very strong panel of 30-35 players there and every man is fit to do the job and step in. Karl Lacey is missing and yet Decky Walsh steps in and plays a quality match, it just shows the strength in depth we have."
It was a point that McHugh concurred with. He got to play Championship football with his brother Ryan – on as a half-time substitute – for the first time and was happy with his contribution.
"Everyone is pushing for places; Brick (Dermot Molloy) came on there at the end as well, and we are all fighting for places on the team. Everyone is enjoying the training and we are all pushing for a place. It is a 20-man game and Jim and Rory will be the first to tell you that."