Top team bosses primed for looming battles in the Championship
A national title remains at stake for Dublin and Cork in the Allianz Football League final on April 26 but the looming prospect of Championship fare was the major focus of all four managers whose teams engaged in the semi-finals at Croke Park yesterday.
Jim Gavin and Brian Cuthbert prepare for another big game while Malachy O'Rourke and Rory Gallagher can concentrate on the serious business of preparing for the war of attrition that is the Ulster championship.
Dublin boss Gavin will closely examine yesterday's performance.
He believes that his team can and will do better the next day, albeit that winning the League would be a bonus rather than an expectation.
Asked was he surprised to reach a League final given that the early part of the season was given to experimentation, Gavin replied:
"Am I surprised? We've gone from game to game and genuinely that's the way we approached it. It's not our long-term ambition this year.
"We're trying to give players more game time and build towards that end.
"We understand that if we remain static, if we don't grow, teams will bypass us. There's a challenge in that itself.
"Some of our performances haven't been up to what we'd like, as in today's performance wasn't what it should have been. Somehow we got the result and I won't say we're happy, but we're glad of an extra game."
His dissatisfaction with the particular aspects that need improvement was spelled out:
"Our core skills which we apply to ourselves in our practice sessions. Our hand-passing. Our tackling was a bit sloppy as well.
"They're the basics of our game and they sort of let us down. Once that didn't go right for us, we kind of turned the ball over a lot and gave Monaghan a chance to penetrate against us," he said.
Bernard Brogan and Rory O'Carroll were left out yesterday because of soft-tissue injuries but should be fit for duty against Cork.
The returning Alan Brogan could get a run in Sunday's challenge game at Skerries v Galway (2.0) and then Gavin expects a serious test against Cork.
"We had a cracking game with them in Pairc Ui Rinn in our first National League game.
"They are probably a bit more defensive in their system this year as well but any game between Cork and Dublin the last few years has been really high-octane and very entertaining.
"Both teams will really have a crack at it and be thankful that we have an extra game in this part of the season," said Gavin.
Cork and Dublin have shown a renewed willingness to defend in depth this season, an inevitable requirement of the modern game.
Said Cuthbert: "I suppose Cork would have been looked on as a free-flowing team over the years, when they were at their best, but the game has moved on.
"Most teams are defensive in nature, and every team has a different system. Through the league, the seven games we played we came up against seven different systems in different guises.
"It's pleasing for us with Donegal, who are the architects of this in many ways with Jim McGuinness and so on, that we were able to open them a few times today.
"But, without being smart, we conceded nineteen points, so we obviously have plenty of work to do.
"Ken (O'Halloran) had to make two great saves and if either of those had gone in it could have been a different game. They were at crucial times of the game.
"But the overall feeling is we're happy with the progress, we'll keep our heads down and work away," he said.
Of the two losing managers, Monaghan's Malachy O'Rourke was probably slightly happier than his Donegal counterpart, Rory Gallagher.
The Farney men got a drubbing from the Dubs last week, and almost severely embarrassed the Blues on their home patch before losing by just a point.
Gallagher's side ran Cork to within four points despite shipping four goals, three of them in the second half.
Monaghan returned from a training camp in Portugal on Friday, a venture which was originally booked without giving much consideration to the prospect of reaching the League semi-finals.
"When we planned the trip we weren't necessarily thinking that we would be in a League semi-final so it was a case of balancing that with wanting to get a lot of work done because we were preparing for the championship.
"At the same time, we had to keep an eye on this week as well because if we were very jaded it wasn't going to help us.
"What we did was we used today as part of that week's training, and today was as good as several training sessions," said O'Rourke.
Rory Gallagher voiced his concern at conceding four goals but was happy to see experienced Colm McFadden and Anthony Thompson back in action.
"Once we qualified we came here to win the game. But we're in a different situation to Cork (earlier championship start).
"Our guys' legs couldn't have been fresh today. It took its toll in the second half.
"We weren't geared to peak for a game today. We're out in a must-win game in Ulster (v Tyrone) on May 17 - we have to gear for that," he said.