Ryan McHugh: We need to shore up our defence for Galway
Ryan McHugh sat down to watch Cork's 'so near yet so far' season fizzle out last weekend and felt thankful for small mercies.
He tried to put himself and Donegal in that situation and pose the question as to whether they could deal with the six- or seven-day turnaround from the disappointment of losing a provincial final.
More and more he began to appreciate the extra week afforded to them after their own gut-wrenching Ulster final defeat to Monaghan six days earlier.
"The two weeks is a big advantage. Cork felt the wrath of that. It gives you a bit of time for extra training and to get your teeth into the opposition. You can feel it this week," he reconciled.
"From our point of view, it wasn't easy. We planned at the start of the year to win an Ulster final. There is no point lying. It was in the books, hopefully to go on and win it. We haven't done that.
"Obviously there's going to be a grieving stage, the day of it, the day after. But you have to get up on the horse again. You have to look in the mirror and face reality.
"Thankfully, there's another day in Gaelic football. Tuesday's training last week went well, Thursday was good. And we slowly but surely felt ourselves picking up," he reflected.
The extra time has given them space to reflect on where it went wrong for them in a third successive Ulster final against Monaghan.
When McHugh distils it all he has been able to take a lot more positives out of it than he might have felt initially.
"It was a bad day at the office," he said. "There's been a lot of stuff, people saying different things. I tend to take no notice of that.
"I personally felt we played well in the second half. Now the first half wasn't up to par, nowhere near it.
"But we went at it. We had no option but to go at it. On a different day things could have been different. On another day some of those shots would have gone over."
The starting point for any post-mortem is an obvious one. They kicked 11 second-half wides, had only four different scorers, three points from play out of a total of 10. They need to be more clinical and creative in attack.
But McHugh believes defensively they have become a little more vulnerable than they once were as a team.
"We like to think we're a good defensive team. We probably need to shore up that a wee bit more. Back in the days of 2011 and 2012, they (defence) were unbelievable those days. It was hard to get through anywhere."
McHugh, arguably now the game's most versatile player with his ability to move seamlessly between defence and attack, also senses that his friend and Kilcar club-mate Paddy McBrearty won't have dwelt much on that last shot that drifted narrowly wide at the end and certainly won't deter him in what has been his best season in four as a Donegal senior.
"He's been going very well. Growing up with him, playing with him, if we were ever stuck, Paddy was the man we would normally turn to in those situations. It was narrowly wide. You can't fault him for shooting, no more than Colm McFadden or Michael Murphy. They put that much practice into them. If you go down to Towney (Kilcar's home pitch) any night, Paddy's there.
"It's easy looking at a match saying, 'He should have scored'. It's a lot harder in the heat of battle.
"He was down a wee bit, no more than the rest of the team. He wasn't the only man who missed chances. He still kicked six points, was probably one of the better ones. He's obviously going to be down, no more than the rest of us. But he wasn't long putting it behind him."
McHugh, now three seasons on the Donegal senior squad despite being eligible for under 21 this year, is adamant that they can't use their tough campaign so far as a crutch going into Saturday's fourth-round qualifier against Galway.
Kevin Walsh's side have had it just as tough, beginning their campaign in New York at the start of May and meeting Leitrim, Mayo, Derry and Armagh in games since.
Using Donegal's Ulster Championship victories over Armagh and Derry as a form guide, McHugh believes Galway's performances against the same opponents will leave very little between them.
"They put up good performances against both. They were very comprehensive in the Derry game especially. They have two of the biggest midfielders in the game (Thomas Flynn and Fiontán ó Curraoin) and six forwards who on any given day could win a game on their own.
"They've plenty of underage success, so they'll be confident lads. It's a challenge we're relishing. We can't wait to get up to Croke Park and try to produce a performance we know we need.
"But we can't resort to the fact that we've had tough games. So have Galway. They've had it just as tough."
Excuses are not something they're going to draw on, not Karl Lacey's absence this weekend, not Michael Murphy's knee injury in the build-up to the Monaghan game that clearly left him labouring.
"At the start of the year we knew what we were facing. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We're not going to use the draw as an excuse for losing the Ulster final. We know that we probably just weren't good enough," he accepted.