Michael Murphy pulls the strings as Cavan accept their fate much too easily
Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15
If it was a crime scene, investigators wouldn't have spent much time getting to the bottom of who committed it.
Michael Murphy's fingerprints were all over this Ulster preliminary first round tie in Ballybofey; first subtly, but then, as the game progressed, they became so evident no swab was required to detect them.
It's hard to believe that just a few short years ago we were still arguing the pros and cons of where his county could best deploy him.
Murphy at full-forward feels almost obsolete now, like a throwback to a different era. Here he planted himself in that midfield/centre-forward channel and had this game on a string for long spells as the home side extended their unbeaten Ballybofey run in league and championship to 21 games, dating back to 2010.
When it needed a change of direction, he gave it that; when it needed a surge he put the foot to the floor. And when it needed slowing down, no better man to apply the breaks.
He made marks, he scored points, he delivered one 50-metre pass for Patrick McBrearty's second point that you couldn't digitally enhance to improve.
Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan showed the will to stay at it and improve the look of the scoreboard, but there was no stopping Murphy.
Donegal won by eight points and it could conceivably have been a few more.
They had a late goal disallowed when Michael Langan was adjudged to have been in the square when he gathered a rebound after Cavan goalkeeper Raymond Galligan had denied Murphy from close range.
Galligan had twice saved from Patrick McBrearty in the opening half and showed stern resistance.
But in so many other areas of the field Cavan were toothless and their challenge largely disintegrated early in the second-half when Donegal hit six points in succession.
How could it have been this way for a team that earned promotion back up to Division 1 less than two months earlier?
The lack of belief, on the field and on the terraces, was palpable.
The apparent dearth of interest in Cavan was reflected in an attendance of just 9,612. For two of the best supported counties in the province that was a poor return at the turnstiles.
As a contest, it was largely harmless. There were plenty of nice scores, especially from Donegal players, but a full-blooded Ulster championship clash it wasn't.
"It's probably not similar to an Ulster championship match, but, in fairness to Cavan, they came to play football. They were without one or two key players," acknowledged Donegal manager Declan Bonner, with Dara McVeety, their captain who came on in the last quarter, in mind.
Cavan did come to play football, judging by a set-up that left them with four up front for long spells. However, that left it easier for Murphy to pick his spots and players like Ciaran Thompson and Langan to deliver long-range scores.
So many Donegal players kicked points off their weaker side. Their 1-10 first-half tally was entirely constructed from play with no return from McBrearty.
The Kilcar man was having an off day until a late surge brought four points and an assist for substitute Cian Mulligan's late goal. In his brief time on the field, Mulligan served notice that there might be much more to come.
Cavan kept things tight on McBrearty. Killian Brady did fine until he was yellow carded for wearing no gum shield and that left him in a precarious position and eventually replaced. Padraig Faulkner also enjoyed some success.
But Cavan were wide open to runners through the middle. Eoghan Bán Gallagher is a defender who generates a lot of power and he used it to break tackles to win frees and set up scores.
Cavan led early, Donegal then nudged 0-4 to 0-3 ahead before Killian Clarke was allowed to generate momentum and step his way into a position to send Caoimhin O'Reilly in for the opening goal on 15 minutes.
However, they didn't score again for another 16 minutes and by that stage Donegal had seized the initiative to lead by seven, 1-10 to 1-3.
Their goal came from one of the few Murphy flaws on the day, an undercooked 45 falling nicely for Ryan McHugh to punch home from close range on 23 minutes.
Three points gave Cavan a lifeline, but when a Murphy-inspired rally yielded six points in eight minutes, both sides were already looking to future assignments.
McKiernan kept at it and hit five points from play, Adrian Cole came off the bench and made things more uncomfortable for Neil McGee, while Cian Mackey never stopped searching for openings with his probing runs and passes.
But this was a big disappointment from a team that covered so much ground in their spring campaign - though 13 wides to Donegal's four is a mild defence.
"They are physically bigger than us, they probably won midfield in terms of kick-outs and overall they were worthy winners," Mattie McGleenan acknowledged.
"This time last year when we went into the back door, our performances dropped off. That can't happen now. It will be a huge test of this football team, can we take the learning of today and go into the back door."
The biggest indictment of Cavan is that Donegal should face a far sterner test from a Division 4 side in two weeks' time when they meet Derry.
Scorers - Donegal: M Murphy 0-6 (3fs), P McBrearty 0-4, C Thompson, M Langan 0-3 each, C Mulligan, R McHugh 1-0 each, J Brennan 0-2, L McLoone, C Ward 0-1 each.
Cavan: G MCKiernan 0-7 (2fs), C O'Reilly 1-3 (0-3fs), C Mackey 0-2 (2fs), N Murray, B Magee, N Murray all 0-1 each.
Donegal - S Patton 7; EB Gallagher 8, N McGee 7, F McGlynn 6; S McMenamin 6, P Brennan 7, C Ward 7; H McFadden 6, M Murphy 9; L McLoone 6, R McHugh 7, C Thompson 7; P McBrearty 7, M Langan 7, J Brennan 7. Subs: C McGinley 6 for Thompson (52), E Doherty 6 for McMenamin (57), C Mulligan 7 for McHugh (60), M McHugh for McGlynn (64), S McBrearty for J Brennan (67), C McGonagle for Langan (70).
Cavan - R Galligan 8; J McLoughlin 7, P Faulkner 7, K Brady; 6 N Murray 5, C Brady 6, C Moynagh 6; K Clarke 6, B Magee 5; C Mackey 7, G McKiernan 8, O Kiernan 6; C O'Reilly 7, E Flanagan 6, C Bradley 6. Subs: F Reilly 5 for K Brady (22), N Clerkin 6 for Murray (h-t), A Cole 7 for Magee (43),M Reilly 6 for O'Reilly (44), D McVeety 6 for Flanagan (52), R Connolly for Bradley (70)
Ref - David Gough (Meath).