Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
For despite decimated Donegal’s heavy defeat by Down, team boss Ray Durack said he had nothing but admiration for his squad who were minus six experienced players against a Down side who won at a canter.
The team boss said his young charges now “knew what it would be like to be playing in Division Two hurling”.
“I am not a bit disappointed as I knew coming into this match that we were going to be under serious pressure,” Durack said.
“We were very understrength. Kevin Campbell is sick, Christopher McDermott is working in London and Justin McGhee has a calf strain and we were also missing Danny Cullen, Enda McDermott and Lee Henderson.
“This has shown us what it will be like playing in a higher division but I have nothing but admiration for all these lads who have given it everything since last November.”
Four years ago Donegal ran Down hurlers to five points, but the pre-match omens did not indicate any form of a repeat, despite a full-blooded effort.
The yawning gulf in ability was apparent, as the losers’ chances were even more limited, when they were forced to line out without the talismanic Danny Cullen (injured) and the suspended Enda McDermott.
Donegal were also minus marksman Kevin Campbell, Christopher McDermott and Justin McGhee who had to pull out of yesterday’s clash due to injury.
Campbell’s absence was a deadly blow as he was the chief marksman since the departure of Lee Henderson that meant Tir Chonaill started this match without six of their regulars.
And that was simply far too much to carry against a Down side that was physically superior and battle-hardened by the Christy Ring competition and Divison Two hurling.
Down may have been minus the charismatic “Magic” Johnston who is retired, but they had no real need for anything special as they won in a most workmanlike fashion.
Mourne midfielder Scott Nicholson gave a match winning display in the centre of the park and finished with a tally of 0-7.
But Donegal had real heroes in ex-Ulster panelist Jamesie Donnelly and the lion-hearted Joe Boyle who seemed to be taking on the entire Down team, especially in a most one-sided second half.
Down were operating in a higher division but it took at least 20 minutes for this to become apparent as decimated Donegal bravely matched them score for score, especially in the opening 20 minutes.
Down settled quickly into their stride with an early flurry of points from midfielder Scott Nicholson as they led by 0-4 to 0-1 after just five minutes.
That signalled a plethora of long range scores from both sides as Donegal hit back through Ciaran Matthewson, Paddy Hannigan and Paul Sheridan.
The exchanges were fairly even for the opening quarter as Down led by a mere point, 0-6 to 0-5.
But the Mournemen gradually put daylight between the sides through the inevitable Nicholson.
And when midfielder Ryan Brannigan soloed through the Tir Chonaill defence before striking a fine goal, the winners had eased to a 1-16 to 0-7 lead.
The second half was a complete canter for Down who scored virtually at will.
Donegal tired visibly and could only manage a total of three points.
Scott Nicholson tossed over some superb long -range points for the winners.
And their slick moving full-forward line of Michael Turley, Johnny McCusker and James Coyle gave an exhibition in shooting from distance.
Ciaran Matthewson found the target twice for Tir Chonaill while Ciaran Kilgannon also was on a target in a second half that was played in almost stony silence, as Clones waited patiently for the main event between Tyrone and Monaghan.
Nicholson remained imperious in the middle of the field for the Mournemen who never lost focus despite the huge gap in ability.
But the margin could have been even greater but for the heroics of Donegal’s experienced defenders Jamesie Donnelly and Joe Boyle.
And Ray Durack’s men will have been given a sharp snapshot of what life is like in the much faster lanes of Division Two B.
They will need all of their best players available and on the top of their game for this considerable challenge after a year when Donegal hurlers put a fair modicum of pride back into the county.
Down: S Keith; M Conlan, P Flynn, M Hughes; B Nicholson, C Woods (0-2), P Hughes (0-1) S Nicholson (0-7), R Brannigan (1-1) S Dineen (0-3), M Ennis (0-1) C O’Prey (0-2); M Turley (0-5), J McCusker (0-6), J Coyle (0-3). Subs: C Hughes for M Conlan (39), F Conway for R Brannigan (54), M McGee for C O’Prey (57),
Yellow cards: P Hughes (24)
Donegal: P Burns; M McGrath, J Browne, B Tourish; J Donnelly, J Boyle, S Gallen; P Sheridan (0-1), R McDermott; C Matthewson (0-5, 1f), P Hannigan (0-1) S McVeigh (0-1); M McGee (0-1) E Organ, C Kilgannon (0-1). Subs: Chris Kilgannon for M McGee (half-time) S Gillespie for S McVeigh (53), D Lafferty for P Burns (58),
Yellow cards: P Hannigan(37,) Ciaran Kilgannon (45),
Referee: C Cunning (Antrim).