Tyrone might’ve fallen through the trapdoor of relegation from the Allianz League Division One and, before Sunday, had lost three on the bounce to Donegal in the Ulster SFC, which made them also-rans in many people’s eyes.
Ultimately, those who predicted a narrow Donegal win in a bruising encounter in Ballybofey were indeed correct.
But it was a contest that came down to the narrowest of margins.
Tyrone were 1-13 to 1-10 down approaching the bitter end, with Michael Murphy’s three plumbly-struck placed balls ultimately the difference between the bordering counties.
For Tyrone, three points would’ve been enough.
As it was Mickey Harte’s team almost scored three goals - or a goal on three occasions if you prefer.
Colm Cavanagh slapped onto the Donegal crossbar, Peter Harte watched on as Paul Durcan clutched his effort away and then Mattie Donnelly fizzed a shot inches wide of the post. Inches.
“That is what we expected it to be,” Rory Gallagher said afterwards, with the Donegal manager a concoction of relieved and revelling with his first win in charge having been Jim McGuinness’s assistant from 2011 till 2013.
“Nobody for one minute thought it was going to be any different.
“There was going to be very little between the teams and that is the way it turned out.
“I wouldn’t say any more important that the previous three years. None of us want to lose. The expectancy is there now with the success and the rivalry against Tyrone.
“But look, on a personal level, no more than three years ago, I wanted to win no more than the players.”
Tyrone finished the first half impressively, coming from three down to lead prior to Martin McElhinney’s goal and a point from Colm McFadden giving Gallagher’s team a slender 1-8 to 1-6 advantage at half-time.
If things were tight on the scoreboard, it was even more so at the mouth of the MacCumhaill Park tunnel players and mentors all, well, standing their ground as they like.
“It was good to go in ahead at half-time and it looked as if we had the momentum but probably didn’t kick on then in the second half and had to grind it out again,” Gallagher added.
“We were edging it patched but that is the nature of us and Tyrone. They get a few scores, we get a few scores. But I was delighted with the response.”
The interval schemozzle, the nitpicks and the defensive structures are ingrained into the psyche of the Ulster SFC now. But so too are the rivalries, the intense competition and the standing their ground. Did you really expect anything else?
Tyrone look well-equipped for the qualifiers, while Gallagher’s side must continue on their provincial escapade with another daunting fixture - away to Armagh in the last eight, or the first round proper - but Donegal have now won 14 of their last 15 in Ulster.
“We have no choice. We are out now in four weeks time,” Gallagher said of the route that lies ahead.
“Coming in we felt well prepared and we also felt that it would be a nightmare situation to be out of the Ulster championship before it even started. So we are delighted.”