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Danny Hughes eyes a new future

By Declan Bogue

A few days on from when Down forward Danny Hughes learned of his 'retirement', and he has come to terms with it.

There will be no grudge with manager James McCartan for the manner in which his career closed. No banner headlines saying he wants back in. He now can get on with his life and emerge from the bubble of inter-county life.

The 32-year-old, who won an All-Star in recognition of his exciting performances as Down made it to the 2010 All-Ireland final against Cork (pictured), is getting married in October.

McCartan told reporters after last weekend that he had heard of Hughes booking a stag do and presumed he had no intention of returning.

On the balance of it, he was right.

"I hadn't talked to James in a couple of months and I suppose I told him I couldn't commit to county football at this moment in time, I was just going back to my club," Hughes says now.

"More than likely, would I have went back? Probably not, so I have no issue with the thing.

"At the end of the day I am 32 now. If I get back playing good club football I would be happy enough."

The question a lot of Down fans will wonder is if Hughes got back to something approaching his best football for Saval over the next couple of months, prompting a phone call from McCartan over a return, would he take it up?

"Probably not, to be honest," he answers.

"I'm sure James is probably wanting to move on and concentrate on the rest of the National League so I don't know. I did say I wasn't going to play this year and that's fair enough.

"Who knows next year? Everything might be different and nothing might be different so you don't know. At 33, and having had a couple of years out of county football it wouldn't be realistic. I am happy that I have done my time at county football. I am happy to leave it at that."

When he looks back on his career, it remains a pity that his final seasons are screenshots of a man frustrated by the limitations of his body.

Cast your mind back to McCartan grabbing him by the shoulders and issuing instructions as he prepared to come on in the 2012 Ulster final against Donegal. Or last season against Derry. In the end, he couldn't do himself justice and he departs with his only silverware the 2008 McKenna Cup.

How hard did he work on his training? When Sean Cavanagh ruptured his 'pec' major tendon the first time a few years ago, it was in trying to keep up with Hughes in a maximum bench press exercise. Cavanagh began pushing at 80kilos. At 120 kilos, the snap in his shoulder occurred. Hughes was only starting at 120kilos. That's how strong he was.

But that kind of strain on your muscles requires a lot of attention, something that the growing number of Gaelic footballers are only beginning to realise with the amount of hip injuries and operations required. Professional athletes have the time to take care of these things, a chartered accountant who is dogged with work was never going to have that luxury.

A Gilmore's Groin condition plagued Hughes the last few seasons, and he had an Adductor Tenotomy operation, where his adductors were cut on either side to relieve pressure on the pelvic bone.

"I maybe neglected my flexibility a bit over the years," he says on hindsight, as if any of this was his fault.

"Even though I trained hard on the other side I neglected maybe that wee part of it in the end.

"When you hold down a job and you are trying to build a house and then you see people who actually have a life, it is very difficult to balance everything.

"To a certain degree you can forget about all that. It's getting increasingly difficult.

"For my own head I needed to step away and just concentrate on one thing and see what happens."

A week or two ago, Hughes caught one of the Laochra Gael documentaries on Cork's Larry Tompkins, who fought back from serious injury to go and win All-Irelands.

The romance of it all appealed to him but soon gave way to hard-headed realism.

"At the end of the day you always think that there is something better.

"Does anyone leave satisfied? Probably not.

"There were teams in Down in 1991 and 1994 and boys got a letter saying their services were no longer required. Were they right?

"No, it wasn't the way to do business in my opinion, but that's football."

He added: "You buy into it when you go into any county set-up, you think you are going to last forever but you are not."

Belfast Telegraph

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