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All Ireland Football Championship: Danny Hughes can be Down's Brian Dooher

When former Down boss Paddy O’Rourke suggested to Danny Hughes some years ago that he should concentrate on “doing a Brian Dooher role within the side” the Newry accountant demurred, suggesting that what he viewed as his limited ability was more confined to that of a finisher.

Yet O’Rourke’s perception of Hughes at that stage as a player of rather more rounded talents has since been transformed into sharp reality following the Saval clubman’s immense role in Down’s progress this year.

Now Hughes, who has taken more than just a leaf out of the Dooher workaholic manual in the interim, is to be handed a key role in Down’s strategy when they meet Kildare in the All Ireland semi-final on Sunday.

“I well remember Paddy mentioning to me that I could be like Dooher and win break ball as well as support the defence. I had remarked to Paddy — tongue in cheek, of course, as I did not want to lose my place — that I saw myself as a finisher but he made the point that he way he saw things, more and more was going to be asked of players.

“He was spot on — Paddy certainly was on the ball in terms of prophesising how gaelic football would evolve within a comparatively short time,” says Hughes.

The upshot is that Hughes will now be a vital link between defence and attack when the Mournemen strive to halt the Kildare juggernaut in a match that has the potential to be rated as a classic.

“If becoming a Brian Dooher means that I would get to lift the Sam Maguire Cup twice as he has done I’ll take that with a heart and a half,” laughs Hughes.

“Seriously though, I know full well that my role in the side means getting up and down the field for the whole of a game, trying to break up opposition moves and launching counter-attacks and hoping maybe to get a couple of scores as well. It’s definitely not going to be easy against a team like Kildare but there is nowhere more that I want to be on Sunday than out there on the Croke Park pitch on Sunday.”

Indeed, Dooher’s achievements with Tyrone despite ongoing injury problems are serving as a source of encouragement to Down.

“We have looked on as Tyrone dominated the All Ireland series along with Kerry in recent years and naturally we thought we would like a slice of that action. Now we are getting a great chance to make it into the final against Cork and we intend to sweat blood to get there.”

Along with the more experienced members of the side like Dan Gordon, Benny Coulter, John Clarke and Declan Rooney, Hughes has found himself adapting to the new strategy laid down by manager James McCartan.

“I have played under four Down managers and you have to be able to play to a certain pattern. There is no doubt that James has got us playing to a system with which we are comfortable but everyone is expected to put in the hard work. Players come off the pitch now absolutely drained but that’s the way it should be,” observes Hughes.

And while Tyrone skipper Dooher is perceived as the perfect role model, Hughes also plans to take inspiration from the men who brought the Sam Maguire Cup to Down in 1991 and 1994.

“Players like Conor Deegan, Mickey Linden, Paddy O’Rourke, D J Kane and James McCartan himself became legends in Down because of what they achieved in those years. Now we want to make our own mark and the best way we can do that is by capturing ‘Sam’. But victory against Kildare on Sunday is our immediate goal.”

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