McHugh hits out at complacency of Donegal supporters
They have built such a successful game-plan on the primacy of their own defence, the pressure they have been able to apply on opponents and the ability to protect and develop their possession under the Jim McGuinness/Rory Gallagher coaching axis.
But Sunday's Ulster semi-final win may have pushed this Donegal team into new territory when looking at the 15 championship games they have played since May 2011.
Under pressure from a Down set-up that was designed with competing, not winning, in mind and tested by the difficult underfoot conditions and swirling wind, they gave up possession 34 times over the course of the 70-plus minutes played.
Given their propensity to guard possession with caution and work it through territory with overlaps and players running on to handpasses at speed from deep positions, it seems a particularly high figure for the All-Ireland champions.
Chance or speculation rarely comes into their use of possession and their ability to recycle and work balls out of trouble areas has been one of their great strengths.
That 16 balls were lost in contact or on the point of contact may reflect well on the pressure game that Down sought to mirror, but it also points to what was arguably Donegal's loosest performance with the ball in that 15-match championship run.
A further 16 passes – nine from the boot, seven from the hand – were either overcooked, intercepted or blocked down and lost. In the case of one, Mark McHugh sliced a ball, under no pressure, out over the sideline from an attempted cross-field pass early in the second half.
Two further speculative deliveries from Colm McFadden in the first half and McHugh in the second half that could not be classed as shots were dealt with and cleared by Down defenders.
How much of it was down to pressure, how much to the elements, how much to the general malaise in their counter-attacking game that allowed them to swat Down aside in last year's Ulster final?
McHugh was adamant that complacency, which could have been drawn from the attitude of supporters if they had listened closely enough, was not a factor.
"I didn't like the attitude of the Donegal supporters during the week at all," he remarked.
"Everybody I was meeting on the street, they were just assuming that we were going to win this game easy and it is not like that in football – especially with the class of that Down team. But they (supporters) just took it for granted that we would (win).
"In the dressing-room, Jim and Rory didn't take it for granted. We knew exactly the battle we were going to come up against and we stood up to that."
Like his manager, McHugh concedes there is scope for improvement on what was arguably Donegal's most testing confrontation in Ulster in the 10 games since McGuinness took over. Even the 2011 and 2012 games may not have taken as much out of them.
"We came out on top. We might not be totally happy with the overall performance; the first 25 minutes we played well and we took our opportunities when they came but we went out of it a wee bit before half-time."
McHugh acknowledged that Down's set-up made life as difficult for them as it has been in Ulster.
"It definitely was as tough as any other championship game we've played. It was a grinding battle. James McCartan is a top-class manager and he is not slow. He knew after the defeat they got last year that he had to do something different and they did that.
"They contained us for much of the game but thankfully Colm (McFadden) and Michael (Murphy) had their shooting boots on and that saw us through in the end."