A year on and it was an all too familiar experience.
Twelve months ago, Monaghan celebrated Ulster success. Yesterday it was the turn of Tyrone.
And on both occasions, as the celebrating supporters continued to toast their team’s success out on the St. Tiernach’s Park pitch, Donegal and their manager, Rory Gallagher found themselves together in the losers’ dressing room. It’s not where they wanted to be.
“There were no big rousing speeches,” Gallagher said, when asked what the mood in the dressing room was afterwards.
“There’s absolute devastation.
“We were badly after this prize. Whether we won or lost, we were always going to still be in this All Ireland series. But we wanted to go into it as winners. We wanted to win the Ulster championship.
“But we’ll say very little and we’ll just stick together over the next day or two now and we’ll get ready for whoever it is.”
‘Whoever it is’ will provide the opposition on the bank holiday weekend in August. The draw for the Qualifiers was to be made on Monday morning with Mayo or Cork the opposition.
“The bounce you get out of winning Ulster is massive,” Gallagher said.
“We would have felt we would have been in a very strong position winning Ulster. Tyrone have that liberty now and they’ve earned it.”
In fairness to the Donegal boss, it’s never easy fielding questions from the media when for the second year in a row his team have come so close to delivering another provincial title.
“I always knew it was going to go down to the last couple of kicks but I suppose to be caught in injury time was fairly cruel from our point of view,” he offered.
“But you can’t take it away from Tyrone.
“We knew what Tyrone were going to present. There was a wee bit of a breeze out there and we had it in the first half . We were able to break them down that wee bit easier and we were able to shoot from distance. But in the second half, we struggled to break them down and it cost us.”
An early score from Patrick McBrearty just seconds into the second half catapulted Donegal into a four point lead, 0-8 to 0-4. Frustratingly, Gallagher’s team were unable to build on that score.
“Obviously you want a big start all the time and it was great, straight from the throw-in,” he said.
“But we lost a bit of control for a period then and we let Tyrone get back level.”
The McBrearty score came after a first half that swung one way, then the other, before Donegal went in at the break three points to the good.
“We were relatively happy (with the first half),” Gallagher said.
“It took us a wee while to settle into the game. Tyrone went 2 nil up and after that we outscored them 7-2 coming up to half time. We could probably have had another one or two.
“We played some good football and Ryan (McHugh) and Odhran (MacNiallais) kicked a couple of good scores and we were winning frees. Unfortunately in the second half we weren’t able to keep that momentum going.
“We went a bit lateral and they got more bodies behind the ball, even when they had the breeze. Maybe we took wrong options when the pressure was on. But listen it’s difficult to break them down. We knew that, but it’s disappointing that we didn’t.”
Among the key scores towards the finish was a wonderful long range point from Peter Harte which put his team in front in injury time.
“We knew it was going to be a day for people to come up with big scores,” the Donegal manager added.
“Peter Harte, to be fair to him, he hadn’t overly been in the game by his standards, but it was a massive score he kicked. Sean Kavanagh, to be fair to him too, kicked a couple of massive points as well.”
Gallagher must now turn his attentions to the Qualifiers and one of his immediate duties will be to lift his players after another Ulster Final set-back.
“We haven’t recovered as well as we would like in the back door over the past six seasons,” he said.
“It’s a challenge for us but we’re not afraid of challenges.
“I think there were an awful lot of good things done today. I thought the boys played really well at times and showed an awful lot of hunger so it’s just a matter now of regrouping and trying to learn a wee bit.”