In terms of intensity, in the bowls of Croke Park by the Cusack Park dressingrooms, it was suggested that it wasn’t so much of a challenge match-feel but more of a pitch opening.
Well, certainly towards the end of an afternoon that was easy on the eye, although one that Tyrone, Donegal’s Ulster SFC opponents on Sunday, May 17, wouldn’t have taken too much from.
On an afternoon of 31 frees and not one Donegal yellow card, there are no injuries and suspensions in the camp ahead of that climactic preliminary round tie that takes place in Ballybofey four weeks this Sunday.
Rory Gallagher, the Donegal manager, had seen his team defeated in an open Allianz League Division One semi-final, 4-11 to 0-19 against Cork at an echoey Croke Park.
When GAA HQ is so sparsely attended - with only 20,013 culminating for the double-header that also included Dublin and Monaghan, it always has a peculiar feel.
Donegal shaded the first half but still went in on terms, 0-11 to 1-8, with Tom Clancy, the Cork late addition at corner-back, being one of those long-priced first goalscorer bets.
One of those too frequently-used adages state that goals win matches and yesterday that was the case. Cork scored three in the second half and Donegal didn’t manage any all day.
Ken O’Halloran saved from Colm McFadden following a stereotypical Donegal counter-attack on nine minutes to keep the score at 0-3 to 0-3. Then, in the second half, the Cork goalkeeper denied Patrick McBrearty following Christy Toye’s crisp pass, to maintain the Munster team’s 3-10 to 0-16 advantage. Both were pivotal points in the match.
“With the goal chances, Cork took theirs but we missed ours,” Gallagher broke it down to afterwards. Cork’s fourth goal, when Colm O’Neill slotted past Michael Boyle, put an end to whatever contest there was and concluded five Donegal points on the spin.
“We had plenty of energy in the first half, particularly in the first 18 or 19 minutes,” Gallagher said of the early stages. “We did a lot of damage, but it’s disappointing that the goals killed the game as a contest a wee bit. There are lots of positives considering where we’re at and in the period of training that we’re in. I thought that we competed very well. It’s onwards and upwards.”
All in all, Division One has served its purpose this year for Gallagher. Eoin McHugh was a late addition to the team yesterday and acquitted himself well after a busy week, while Eamonn Doherty and Hugh McFadden - another member of Maxi Curran’s unfortunate U-21 team - have played themselves into contention.
Seven points in the top flight is Donegal’s best return since Brian McIver’s side took the trophy back to the Diamond in 2007.
Throughout the spring there have been experiments, some of which will be used in championship and others that will not.
Yesterday, keeping their powder dry, Donegal mixed it for large spells. They were much looser than normal, although conceding four goals wasn’t ideal.
“We went out and opened up a bit more than our usual style of play,” Gallagher added. “It was disappointing to concede the four goals.
“We went out with the main aim of getting Colm McFadden and Anthony Thompson in for starts again and to get Eoin McHugh a start.
“They fitted in well. Some of the football that we played in the first half was very good. We created a couple of goal chances – if Colm had put his away it would have opened up a bit of a gap at that stage.
“We’re really pleased with where we’re at, with the level of fitness in the squad and with no real serious injuries. Neil Gallagher missed out today, but he could have played today no problem.
“We have a fully-fit squad and we’d expect Neil to be back in collective training on Tuesday night.
“There is no doubt that our guys’ legs couldn’t have been fresh coming into today’s game.
“That had a big toll on them. We weren’t gearing to peak for a game today. Unfortunately in Ulster we’re out in a must-win game on May 17. We have to gear for that one,”