Donegal's McBrearty moving on up
Paddy McBrearty gives a shy smile while he lifts the lump of china for his Man of the Match award against Tyrone.
Playing closer to goal than we have seen him do for most of his fledging senior career, he was the difference between Donegal and Tyrone. His vision, strength and athleticism created the two goals for the All-Ireland champions, the timing of each inflicting serious wounds on the Tyrone psyche.
In the first half, Donegal weathered an initial storm, recovering from being 0-4 to 0-1 down after eight minutes. A Colm Cavanagh point off his left foot on 26 minutes actually put them in front, but it was to be the only time Tyrone enjoyed an advantage on the scoreboard in this game.
When Conor Clarke fouled up the field, some slack discipline led to referee Joe McQuillan pulling the ball even further up for a free. The immediate and choreographed response of the players leads you to believe what happened next was a move taken from the training ground.
That, or else they are a team that knows how to live in the moment.
Michael Murphy hoisted in a high ball, McBrearty got above PJ Quinn and Colm McFadden lost his marker Cathal McCarron, caught up in a spell of ball-watching. McBrearty's flick was gathered by the lethal McFadden, who slotted past Niall Morgan.
"Colm just gave me a shout and I saw him from the corner of my eye" recalls McBrearty.
"I got a good connection on it to flick it towards where he was. Thankfully it went to Colm, but Colm still had the majority of work to do after that because it was a tight angle. Thankfully he put it in the net."
Humble. Hard-working. Pushing the credit every direction but his own.
In a way, those outside Tyrone would have been delighted to see him flourish on Sunday. It was a difficult league for Donegal but an even worse one for McBrearty, as he became embroiled in claims that he was bitten by a Dublin player in the final league game. He commented: "It was obviously difficult. It was a bit head-melting, but I had Under-21 Championship and club football to focus on and thankfully I had that to block out all the media hype about that."
With the sides tied once again at nine-each after a Sean Cavanagh point, the Red Hands spurned a few chances to go ahead. Donegal were camped in their own half but they sprang out with a strong run from McBrearty, skinning Dermot Carlin before riding a hit from Martin Penrose, before setting up Ross Wherity for a punched goal.
"It was a forward's ball so the defenders couldn't do much about it," was his succinct assessment, before paying tribute to the fringe players that have pushed on the rest of the panel.
"We have probably the strongest squad that we have had since Jim took over. You saw Ross there chipping in with a goal, Marty O'Reilly came on at half time and contributed well and we've Odhran Mac Niallais and Luke Keaney in reserve as well. We're very happy with the result, we'll meet up on Tuesday night and take it from there."
One man who didn't start but was brought on after 21 minutes was Mark McHugh.
McBrearty's Kilcar clubmate is the beating heart of the Donegal system but he was unable to start because of a hamstring strain on his right leg.
Exams last week also disrupted his training schedule, leaving him unable to attend the four-day residential coaching period that Donegal had in a Meath hotel.
"It didn't help that I couldn't get down to Johnstown House last week with the rest of the boys. I had four exams in the one week which messed up my routine," the current All-Star said.
"Thankfully there's a hydra pool in Sligo and I've been living in that this past two weeks, which has brought me on. Hopefully there won't be too much damage done and I can get back playing club Championship for Kilcar."
Despite the six points in it at the end, McHugh was gracious enough to say that the gap between Donegal and Tyrone has not become any bigger on the evidence of the latest display.
"Tyrone and Donegal is probably one of those things where they could play 10 times and Tyrone could win five and Donegal could win five, they are so evenly matched.
"We are used to this field, we trained here during the week, the free-takers know it so well, all these wee points add up to making it easier for you."