Mark McHugh has been handed what he hails as “the perfect pre-All-Ireland final bonus” now that he has become the latest winner of the Quinn Direct Ulster GAA Writers Association monthly merit award.
The 23-year-old Donegal playmaker snapped up the accolade following his outstanding performances in his team’s All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Kerry and semi-final triumph over Cork.
McHugh stamped an indelible imprint on both games when, operating from a deep position, he not only managed to add solidity to the Donegal defence but proved the launch pad for many of the team’s attacking sorties.
His accomplished, cultured performances were so reminiscent of those offered by his father Martin when he was the fulcrum of the Donegal side that won the All-Ireland title in 1992.
And while he is anxious to follow in his dad’s footsteps, Mark is in no doubt that he will try to do this in his own way.
“Obviously I am very aware of what my dad achieved with Donegal but the present team plays to a different system. We are delighted to have reached the All-Ireland final but the biggest challenge of all now awaits us against Mayo,” states the 23-year-old Kilcar clubman.
He is a student at Sligo IT where no fewer than 21 other panellists from the Mayo and Donegal squads are studying.
“We know each other well but all friendships will be put on hold for the final as you would expect,” says McHugh. “We know how hungry Mayo are for an All-Ireland title and we are just as anxious to get our hands on ‘Sam.’”
Admitting that his achievement in winning the writers’ honour was “a tremendous surprise”, McHugh nonetheless was quick to deflect credit to his team mates.
“I consider myself very fortunate to be playing in a side where the team ethic is crucial, Jim McGuinness preaches this all the time. Obviously the writers’ award is the perfect pre-All-Ireland final bonus as far as I concerned but the task now is to for us all to go out and perform on the day against Mayo and try and win the All-Ireland title for the county for the second time,” states Mark.
His father too could also find himself honoured later in the year. He is a strong contender for a place in the Ulster GAA Writers’ Association Silver Jubilee team that will be unveiled at their 25th annual banquet in the Great Northern Hotel Bundoran on November 16.
The team will be drawn from those players who have been the winners of the writers’ monthly merit awards since the Association’s inception in 1987.
Chairman J P Graham reports that interest in the composition of the Jubilee football and hurling sides is “absolutely tremendous”.
He adds: “The idea of selecting these two teams came from within our membership and now the Ulster GAA as a whole is taking a keen interest in just who will eventually make it onto the teams. The announcement of the teams at our banquet will be awaited with considerable interest.”