Donegal make light work of Cavan and send out a warning to the rest
Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15
In the lead-in to this game, Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan had urged his players to 'bend reality' by becoming the side to end Donegal's 20-game unbeaten run in Ballybofey.
By the end, the only thing that was being stretched was Donegal's patience as they polished off the visitors in this preliminary game without a second thought.
They now look forward to a short spin to Celtic Park in under a fortnight to take on a Derry side that will not be the pushover that their league form would indicate.
This was like a Donegal performance of old, under Jim McGuinness. Their inter-play was polished, they always had a support runner and they broke at serious speed.
Cavan were a total contrast of static forwards, little invention and poor body language. If they do something in the backdoor, then the return of Dara McVeety and Martin Reilly will be responsible as both men got on here to limited effect.
After a promising opening quarter, crowned by young Caoimhin O'Reilly's neat side-footed shot to goal past Shaun Patton, Donegal clicked into a higher gear, rattling off 1-6 without reply in ten minutes.
While they ran from deep, sweeper Frank McGlynn aided by the likes of Caolan Ward and the excellent Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Cavan had three occasional sweepers in Enda Flanagan, Conor Moynagh and Oisin Kiernan, but instead of tagging the runners, Donegal were able to slice through almost unopposed to score.
And the man who found that task easiest, was a buoyant Michael Murphy, who looked back to his old self after a difficult spring spent rehabbing an operation on a long-standing Gilmore's Groin problem.
"He's a real leader, no doubt about it and he's coming into really good shape now and playing really well. He's an important part of the whole group," Donegal manager Declan Bonner underplayed afterwards.
The Glenswilly man might be turning 29 this August, but he has two careers-worth of football already played. Still, his appetite shows no form of diminishing as he dominated his marker Oisin McKiernan throughout. What may be a cause of concern was the bag of ice strapped to his knee as he made his way from the changing rooms.
Cavan had a decent opening quarter, a decent 20 minute spell in the second half when the sting went out of the game, but that was it. They appeared a team that travelled and had long abandoned hope, their yellow cards for needless fouls rather than unleashing a controlled fury or even laying down the law in some physical exchanges.
Perhaps the message sent last week that the third man into a melee would be red carded was fresh in the mind.
While they did get through for a few goal chances, their final ball was a weakness, acknowledged McGleenan.
"But listen," he added, "Donegal are moving very well there. They could take a bit of shifting. I would be happy we didn't give up and played to the final whistle there. It is a huge learning curve. This is one of the top teams in Ulster Championship football, they are not one of the top teams by chance."
Donegal stretched their unbeaten run to 21 games at this venue over league and Championship, set on their way by a Ryan McHugh goal, which came about through Micheal Murphy's '45' dropping short and the Kilcar man punched to the net in an uncharacteristically quiet afternoon.
That came in the middle of a purple patch for Bonner's men who went in 1-10 to 1-6 ahead at half time, Cavan having netted with a neat sidefoot from Caoimhin O'Reilly past Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton to go two points up at the end of the first quarter.
But Donegal's six consecutive points at the start of the second half, Murphy accounting for four of them, put the game beyond Cavan.
They are worth watching. They have speedy defenders, a lot of experience and their young men such as Michael Langan and Ciaran Thompson are maturing fast. Former Leitrim player Paul Brennan has slotted into the side as an aggressive centre-back and they have serious back-up on the bench, Stephen McBrearty, Mark McHugh both coming on, with Paddy McGrath, Odhran MacNiallais and Mark Anthony McGinley on their way back from injury.
"Listen, there's going to be tougher tests ahead and we know that," said Bonner.
"And we know we have to improve in certain areas and we'll go back and we will work on that."
Asked about a few interesting selections to be made if he can get a full compliment back, he is in the happy situation of being able to pick a team on training form.
"We just have to see what's going on at training, the training's been very intense, I'm doing it a very high level and those are the guys we picked, guys who are on form and that's where it's at," he said.