ONE by one, they eulogised Donegal, variously describing them as "the team to beat," or "the new benchmark." By common acclaim from Donegal's fellow travellers on the All Stars trip to New York, Jim McGuinness' adventurers have "raised the bar to a new level."
Work on trying to reach those heights – or maybe even surpassing them – has already begun in some counties and will gather pace over the coming weeks as more squads return to formal training on a phased basis, depending on when they were eliminated from the championship. They may even have "Jimmy's Winning Matches" as a backing soundtrack to their early slog in the hope that some of Donegal's self-confident certainty will rub off on them.
McGuinness' deal with Celtic has further increased the strength of the Donegal currency. That a world-branded professional soccer club would hire a man who made his reputation within an indigenous amateur sport in a small country has further fuelled the belief that Donegal are, indeed, involved in something special.
It's easy to buy into it because All- Ireland champions tend to look different. It's as if winning the title becomes a dual-purpose growth promoter, making players look more physically impressive, while also empowering them mentally. They, thus, give off an impressive aura.
I noticed it at Fitzpatrick's hotel in New York over the past week, as the All Star footballers of the past two years came and went in a relaxed atmosphere.
Twelve months ago, it would have been Bernard Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley and various other Dubs who exuded success; a year earlier, the same would have applied to Aidan Walsh, Graham Canty and the other Cork All Stars.
This time, it was all about Donegal. They are a very pleasant group of players and McGuinness is a most impressive character, but there's more to the new aura than that. No, this is all about the way others view All-Ireland winners and the perception which attaches itself to success.
It's the classic case of winners always being right, losers invariably wrong. Even when games are decided on the tightest of margins, the winning players and managers are invariably portrayed as smart, heroic performers who did everything right, while the losers were all wrong.
Rewind to last year's All-Ireland football final, which Kerry lost to Dublin in dramatic circumstances after leading by four points on 64 minutes. At that stage, Dublin were regarded as honest triers who couldn't land the big deal, while Kerry were being hailed as high-end achievers who knew how to win finals. All changed on the home run, altering perceptions to such a degree, that some would have you believe they knew all along what was about to unfold.
Later in the year, Dublin outnumbered Kerry 6-4 on the All Stars selection and Alan Brogan picked up all the main individual awards in a classic case of the winners taking it all.
That's how it has always been, but as football squads return to wintry training fields over the coming weeks, they should look beyond perception.
Sure, Donegal deserved to win the All-Ireland title after completing two excellent seasons where they won 12 of 13 championship games – the county's best run in All-Ireland history – but all this talk of "raising the bar" and becoming "the new benchmark" is exaggerated.
We were told at the end of 2010 that, having finally negotiated their way to the summit, Cork would expand into a really dominant force. They had raised the bar, you see, and there was more to come. Not quite, actually. Well not yet, anyway.
Last year it was Dublin's turn to indulge in some bar-raising. They too were supposed to soar higher, leaving opponents strung out behind them. Instead, they lost power and while they still had enough to out-gun all- Leinster opposition when reaching the All-Ireland semi-final, they were beaten by Mayo after misfiring for much of the way.
Now, Donegal are on bar-raising duties, with this year's surge having hoisted them to the top of the 2013 All-Ireland betting lists as 10/3 favourites. Interestingly though, they are only fourth favourites behind Cork, Dublin and Kerry to win the Division 1 League title.
Only time will tell if Donegal are, indeed, capable of retaining the All-Ireland title – something no Ulster county has achieved since Down won the double in 1960-61.
Donegal are well equipped for the challenge, but I don't go along with the view that they have set new standards. They were the best team this year in what was a modest championship in terms of quality.
That's of no concern to Donegal as they enjoy their many laps of honour. They're certainly deserving champions, but special ones? Despite all the bar-raising talk, that case is still unproven.