'There's always a different plan for the Dubs' - McGlynn
There's a remarkable correlation between Donegal's erratic League run and the fitness of stalwart defender Frank McGlynn. And only in his absence is his value to the side truly appreciated.
McGlynn is the cornerstone of the Donegal defence: before a hamstring tear ruled him out from rounds four to six, Rory Gallagher's side were flying high with three successive wins.
Their campaign unravelled thereafter, however, losing four on the bounce; the former All-Star returned to play 70 minutes against Monaghan and despite their poor run of form, the league's competitiveness means they still made the semi-finals.
Peaks and troughs are expected given the calibre of teams in the top tier but Donegal come face to face with Dublin, the only team with a perfect league record, in Croke Park tomorrow as Jim Gavin's men make an assault on their fourth Division 1 title in a row.
It's a quick renewal of acquaintances following their feisty 1-10 to 0-7 defeat two weeks ago, a game in which saw Michael Murphy and James McCarthy get their marching orders as the Ulster side were again heavily criticised for their defensive tactics.
They held a 0-6 to 0-5 lead before Murphy's dismissal and such talk doesn't bother McGlynn. Playing defensively is part and parcel of playing against the reigning champions.
"It's a different plan for Dublin," he says. "There's differences in the way teams set up. . . the way certain teams play against Dublin. . . with the six individual forwards they have, on a given day any one of them could pop up and be a game winner.
"It's a matter of trying to curtail all six. Usually it's an easier task when you're dealing with just two or three marquee forwards, whereas against Dublin all six forwards require equal attention, and that's what makes the job so difficult and that's why teams often adapt a defensive system against them."
The Glenfin clubman also feels the Dubs have altered their style significantly when playing against certain sides, with major lessons learned from previous encounters, most notably their shock All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal in 2014.
"The way we set up the last day worked for 40 minutes before we tired. I also think that the way Dublin approached the game, it lent itself to both sides setting up defensively. Dublin may have learned from other games against us," he says.
"They've adapted their style of play against ourselves and against more defensive teams, they're actually matching us defensively and it makes it even more difficult to break them down. They have six forwards that work seriously hard defending.
"In other games it might not be as evident that we're playing as defensively but against Dublin they can really punish you and put pressure on you as a defender coming out with a ball. It can look more defensive than it actually is."
McGlynn is aware that defending alone will not derail Dublin's 20-game unbeaten streak in league and championship, and his return will add further fire to the Donegal's counter-attacking style. The 11-year veteran is as exuberant as ever and eager to atone for last year's disappointing Ulster final reversal, as well as their tame quarter-final defeat to Mayo.
"The more work you do and the more conditioned you are the easier sometimes it gets despite age, you learn from previous years so hopefully we'll put it to good use this year," McGlynn says.
And the Ulster schedule is in their favour this year as they avoid a preliminary game and get an extra month's preparation before Fermanagh or Antrim on June 12.
But for now it's the Dubs, and if Donegal are to cause another upset, McGlynn will be their guiding light, a role he fulfils with understated brilliance.