Down set a championship marker when they took full points from Donegal in Ballybofey on Saturday night.
After a pretty inept opening half where both sides hit bad wides, Donegal had a one point interval lead, 0-5 to 0-4.
But it was in the third quarter that Down kicked on with Benny Coulter and John and Martin Clarke impressive as they went four points clear.
Donegal did get back on terms thanks to good work from Anthony Thompson and Colm McFadden but John Clarke struck for what proved to be the winner a minute from time, while Peter Fitzpatrick added an insurance point in added time.
Both managers were taking positives from the game, especially as they will do battle at the same venue on the last Sunday in May in the Ulster Championship.
“We were level with a minute to go in normal time and it was disappointing that we didn’t at least hold on,” said Donegal boss John Joe Doherty.
As for being a dress rehearsal for the championship, he added: “We didn’t think of it like that. Down have laid down a marker here and they will be raging hot favourites for the championship but we’ll cope with that.”
Down manager James McCartan was a little happier than Doherty.
“It was a tough battle,” he admitted.
“I don’t know if Donegal were holding anything back but we couldn’t afford to.
“We certainly treated it as if it was a championship match.”
He continued: “I suppose the first half wasn’t a great spectacle but it certainly heated up in the second half.
“There was a lot of mistakes but there was more urgency in the second half.
“Taking the league points out of it, that’s the result Donegal would like because it’s the motivation you would need,” McCartan added.
DONEGAL: Durcan; Boyle, McGee, Lacey; Maguire (0-1), Thompson (0-1), Cassidy; Monaghan, Gallagher (0-2); Walsh, Dunne, Kelly; McFadden (0-4), Murphy (0-3), Hanlon. Subs: Concarr for Hanlon; McLoone for Kelly; Dunnion for Dunne
DOWN: Alder; McCartan, McArdle, Rafferty; McKernan (0-1), Colgan, Garvey; Rodgers (0-1), King; Hughes (0-1), M Clarke (0-3), Kearney; McComiskey (0-1), J Clarke (0-2), Coulter (0-3). Subs: Fitzpatrick (0-1) for King; Laverty for McComiskey
Referee: P McEnaney (Monaghan)