As Frank McGlynn said, Donegal can have no complaints with the result on Sunday, but there are very real concerns now being raised about Donegal’s health ahead of the 2014 Ulster Championship.
Not for the first time, Donegal were brushed aside by Monaghan in Croke Park and at times it was embarrassingly easy. There was no fizz, no cutting edge and on top of that, a slip in discipline, which left those Donegal supporters leaving Croke Park with very little to grasp as they look forward to the summer.
The Donegal of 2014 is unrecognisable from the teams of 2011 and 2012. Have they become tired? Is it just the end of a cycle?
Those who would call for a change in the playing style are not taking into account that Donegal players are not accustomed to any other style than the short passing, running game. It is the game of the clubs in Donegal and it would take a remarkable sea-change to turn that around in a short space of time.
In any critical analysis of Donegal post the All-Ireland win, it is that the players look tired and there just doesn’t seem to be the same willingness to make those unselfish runs that were part and parcel of our great victories in 2011 and 2012.
But we must remember that it takes a huge personal sacrifice to play that game. You have to be prepared to put everything on the line for your fellow player and management team. Any break in the link and the system just doesn’t work.
Donegal’s success has been based on total teamwork; a game of inches, which made them almost impossible to play against. Any chink in the chain and they look ordinary. Teamwork means that players are all giving everything for each other, which is always very difficult to achieve.
At the moment it would seem that the players are physically not able to get to the level that they were at two and three years ago. Maybe that is understandable. Now is the time that they need to become an even closer-knit group. That is the challenge for the players and management and they have to forget about the negative vibes that are rampant in the county.
Sunday’s defeat by Monaghan was our second big disappointment in-a-row in Croke Park and also our second final loss to the Farney men. We could point to the loss of Rory Kavanagh, but were we not flattered to be within three points at the break? Rory was drawn into a situation by a Monaghan team who are well known for getting up close and personal. But then again, there are Donegal players who would not be behind the door in the same department.
We have four weeks to prepare for a championship encounter in Celtic Park with Derry, who were also given a lesson by Dublin in the Division One final in Croke Park.
Where are Donegal in the overall scheme of things? If you take Monaghan as the yardstick, then Donegal are well down the pecking order at this stage. Monaghan seem to like playing Donegal, but they have not set the world alight when facing other opposition.
Derry were the form team of the league - that is until they met the Dubs. They may not have been showing their full hand in Croke Park, but after Sunday’s games, they will be strong favourites to advance in the Ulster championship.
What can Donegal do in four weeks? One supporter suggested to me that it would probably be better giving the players a couple of weeks off just to give them time to re-charge their batteries.
Will it help them if they are driven in training for the next couple of weeks? Will that give them sharpness that is so obviously missing at the moment?
No doubt Jim McGuinness and his backroom team will do everything in their power to get them in the right frame of mind for that game. The players will have to work for each other again and also for their manager.
There are striking similarities to what is happening now and in the aftermath of the success in 1992. The following year (1993) Donegal were defeated in the Ulster final and things went flat in 1994.
Twenty years on, history is repeating itself. The age profile was probably a little bit older in 1992, but the training structures are much more regimental now, hence the fatigue and staleness has probably kicked in a little sooner.
The management have plenty on their hands to turn it around in a short time. Like Brian McEniff before him, Jim McGuinness is owed nothing by Donegal, having taken them from the scrapheap. No doubt he will do everything in his power - as he always does - to get Donegal out of Celtic Park with a victory.
This time last year, we were worried about the clash with Tyrone. Twelve months on the anxiety levels are even greater. But it should not be all about Celtic Park. We need a plan that will have the team ready to do battle for a lengthy summer campaign and also to be in a better place as we go forward in championship and in Division One next season.