Darren Hughes is a man for all seasons
Irish ace now focusing on Scotstown's Ulster final after triumph over aussies
Darren Hughes emerged from Ireland's International Rules dressing room on Saturday night dressed from top to toe in the official GAA suit, looking for all the world a man ready to take on the night.
Instead, as his colleagues looked ahead to an evening toasting international triumph after their 56-52 win over Australia, Hughes was cutting short his visit to the Croke Park players' lounge to make it back to Scotstown. Manager Mattie McGleenan had called training for Sunday morning.
There is no time to waste when you are facing Crossmaglen Rangers in an Ulster final seven days later.
"There would have been question marks after last Sunday over whether I would have participated," Hughes commented, referring to Scotstown's Ulster semi-final win over Trillick.
"In my mind, there was never any doubt. I just wanted to keep the momentum going. In fairness to the management of Scotstown, they never pressured me on it at all.
"They just wished me luck and I felt I didn't want to break the momentum. It might have nearly jinxed the thing."
The nature of the rolling interchange also made it less of a risk than if he had been playing a full-blooded match of Gaelic football, he conceded.
"Things were going well in the game. I suppose, the way they play it, you go on and make a burst for five or 10 minutes and then you get your recovery," he said.
"It's not overly strenuous on the body in a sense. That was in the back of my mind, but when you are out there, the result is what you think of, first and foremost."
The 28-year-old collected his fourth International cap and pushed his overall points tally in the series to 10 when he caught an infield ball in midfield. Instead of taking his mark, he gambled and drove forward, screwing his shot for an 'over'.
While Hughes has always been able to take a shot, his scoring has been off the charts for the last two seasons as his club manager McGleenan plays him as a full-forward. Many spectators outside Monaghan have to do a double-take when they see the two Hughes brothers, with Darren in the No.14 jersey and Kieran playing centre-back.
Much of Scotstown's attacking gameplan will be about servicing Hughes with quality ball in the Ulster final, with Crossmaglen sure to make a switch or two to counteract him.
As Hughes went 'into camp' last Wednesday with the rest of Joe Kernan's men, he admitted his keen anticipation of the Ulster final, this Sunday in the Athletic Grounds.
"If you want to win it, you have to beat the best and we are learning now. We have one big game left and we have to play well, if you don't play well, you don't win," Hughes said.
"At least if you play well you give yourself a chance. There are no guarantees you will win, and that has been the mindset of the management and players all year; if you play well and lose, then what more can you do?"
Scotstown are third on the Ulster club roll of honour, level with Derry's Bellaghy on four titles, and behind Burren on five, with Cross naturally at the top with no fewer than 10 titles over the last 17 years.
Although they breached a gap of 20 years in 2013 with a county title, the very name of the club equips them with an inner belief that they will take onto the field against the south Armagh men.
"It's exciting too," Hughes pointed out.
"We are under no illusions of what the task in hand is. I wouldn't say we would be afraid of them coming up, but their track record speaks for itself.
"They have Jamie Clarke back in the set-up as well so we know what the job in hand is."
Following Ireland's narrow win on Saturday night, Hughes feels the reputation of International Rules has been restored to full health.
"I think both parties had to take a long, hard look at themselves after 2013, the way the series was going from that point of view," he added.
"Players want to play in it, there is a good camaraderie especially after we only got together and it picked up pace there in the last week or so. You know it is going to be like that, fragmented because the boys are with clubs.
"But with the management (Joe Kernan manager, with selectors Darragh ÓSé and Pádraic Joyce, along with Kernan's regular trainer, John McCloskey) there, and the track record they have in football, you want to play under these men and for them."
The tour to Australia late next year is awaiting confirmation, but is likely to feature two Tests.