Fit again Darren Hughes wants a return to the spotlight for Monaghan
Last year proved truly memorable for Darren Hughes. Not only did he lead Monaghan to their first Ulster title in 25 years and play a major role in their surge into Division Two of the Allianz League but he also skippered Ulster to the inter-provincial football championship title.
But it has been a rather different story to date this year for the versatile Hughes.
Injury precluded his involvement in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup and also forced him to miss the greater part of Monaghan's league campaign.
In their last scheduled game, the 0-13 to 0-12 win over Galway that sealed promotion, Hughes was introduced as a second-half substitute.
Since then he has continued his rehabilitation and is now hoping to get more game time when Malachy O'Rourke's team meet Donegal in the Division Two final at Croke Park on Sunday week.
"We had a hectic 2013 and I had postponed surgery on a long-standing injury until late in the year," says Hughes.
"I knew that I would be facing into a recovery process and while I am happy with my progress I would just love to think that I could be involved in the Croke Park action.
"The fact of the matter is that competition for places is stiffer now and obviously we are very keen to win the divisional title.
"This would give us a great lift going into the Ulster championship in which we are due to meet the winners of the preliminary round tie between Tyrone and Down."
Hughes, who formerly played for UUJ, is one of the most adaptable players in the province and has even appeared in goal for Monaghan when former manager Seamus McEnaney nominated him for that position at the eleventh-hour for a championship match at Casement Park.
His brother Kieran has now emerged as a key player in the Monaghan side and has also unveiled his versatility.
He will have a key role against Donegal at Croke Park where his stamina and work-rate will help underpin Monaghan's strategy.
"Kieran has certainly been making huge progress and he has a big part to play in the Monaghan side right now," says Darren.
While manager O'Rourke rested some of his more experienced corps for the league tie against Galway, he hopes to have a full-strength side on duty against Donegal.
Indeed, this year Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has been leaning heavily on the players who brought the county to All-Ireland glory in 2012 with few if any concessions to experimentation.
Oisin MacNiallais is the only real newcomer to the side and he has made a big impact in the half-forward line.
Mark McHugh, who missed the game against Armagh earlier this month in which Donegal made sure of their place in Division One for next term, is expected to be back in the selection frame to face Monaghan while Patrick McBrearty could also be handed a starting place having impressed as a substitute against the Orchard County.
McBrearty has been more strongly focused on Under-21 activity lately and captained the Donegal side that lost to Cavan in the provincial final at this level a week ago.