PRETENDERS be warned. Donegal are back and displaying none of the symptoms of an All-Ireland hangover.
Yesterday, in Ballybofey against the team unanimously considered most likely to topple their Ulster three-in-a-row bid, they were given a intrusive examination of their want and desire and showed yet again that they have the stomach for the battle and an arsenal equipped for war in their 'season-after-the-season-before'.
Donegal 2-10, Tyrone 0-10 read the scoreline afterwards as the locals cheered their 2012 heroes from the pitch.
Relegation be damned. Donegal are, if anything, an improved version of their coronation model. Whether they can maintain it now right through summer is the six million dollar question.
"In the last two years, the exact same thing was said," responded McGuinness to the hunger question. "The only difference this year was that we were relegated. It was the media who made the story out of that.
"We had the exact same approach as we had last year. There was a lot of talk about putting all the eggs into one basket, but it was the same last year and the year before. That's what we do – it's Championship football. It was a media spin that got the whole debate going."
Yesterday was, in every respect, the start of the championship proper and those who enveloped Ballybofey did so not to smell the freshly cut grass associated with summer, but in the expectancy of a whiff of napalm.
And they got it. Sort of. We had verbals. We had jeering (mostly at Niall Morgan). We had a sending off. But mostly, we had Donegal dogging it, waiting for Tyrone to burn themselves out and being almost poetically economical with possession.
They had, by way of illustration, just one wide in their first half – four in total. And both of their goals were, at very best, merely half chances, brilliant set up by Paddy McBrearty, firstly with a flick from Michael Murphy's ball to Colm McFadden in the 32nd minute and then, vitally, after Tyrone had gone level at 0-9 to 1-6 in the 40th minute and were savaging Donegal on their own kickout.
The Kilcarr man sped past Martin Penrose and Dermot Carlin before squaring to substitute Ross Wherity, who fisted to the net in his first touch as a Donegal senior in the Championship.
"The short version would be that he (Wherity) changed the game," praised McGuinness, although to a man, all of his substitutions had positive influences. "It was a situation where Tyrone were getting the better of us in the middle of the park.
"They were getting under Neil Gallagher, trying to stop him from jumping and they had three men in the pocket to pick up breaks. We pushed Martin (McElhinney) in there to give us three options and it opened up. We started to get shots away ourselves and we started to get space to operate. When Ross came in he started to pick up the breaks and started to use the ball really well."
As ever with Donegal, there was an air of intrigue and subterfuge before the match. Stories emerging from recent challenge matches with Galway and Roscommon in which McGuinness refused to allow the match to start until every spectator was removed just added to the plot.Would Karl Lacey start? Would Mark McHugh? The answer in both cases was 'no', although the latter came on before half-time and the former to the loudest cheer of the day after 48 minutes.
But the potency of the Donegal cocktail was plain to see. They were, largely, wiped off their own kick-outs, with Paul Durcan going long. Yet with McBrearty and McFadden inside and Murphy playing from deep, all scraps were gratefully accepted and usually converted.
They blankly refused to give up scoring chances, too, although they were hardly to know that Niall Morgan – Tyrone's not-so-secret weapon – would malfunction so uncannily from long-range frees.
Tyrone kicked the first two points of the second half through Seán Cavanagh – now playing at full-forward – and Justin McMahon to level the match by the 40th minute but McBrearty's second major intervention knocked them back firmly on their heels.
So hard did Tyrone take that particular blow, they didn't score again for another half an hour.
Donegal, meanwhile, held them at arm's length, stuffed men behind the ball and picked off scores as Tyrone poured forward in vein.
"We had then to try for a goal ourselves," Harte pointed out, "and to try for a goal with a defensive set-up that Donegal have isn't a very profitable exercise."
"Without a doubt," reflected Harte, "they have tremendous hunger and they are really, really ready for this Championship. If they keep repeating that kind of performance in terms of energy and commitment they will be very difficult to beat."