Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Ryan McHugh is delighted to extend family tradition

Just champion: Donegal stars Ryan McHugh, Luke Keaney and Patrick McBrearty celebrate winning the Ulster crown

On Saturday evening as he was preparing for his second Ulster final, Ryan McHugh took a Transatlantic call. It was his brother Mark, a two-time Ulster champion himself with a Celtic Cross and All-Star from 2012, wishing his younger brother the best of luck for the following day.

But he could never have known the dazzling performance the 20-year-old student was about to deliver, earning man of the match awards aplenty as Donegal avenged last year's defeat to Monaghan.

Still , there had to be some level of regret that his brother wasn't there to share in the triumph. Instead, Mark is spending the summer in New York having opted out of the county panel after the league final, tired and seeking temporary respite from the draining life of an inter-county footballer.

"Mark made his decision," Ryan explained after the final.

"He rang me to wish me all the best, he wished all the lads good luck.

"He'll be happy. He was part of the squad and is best friends with all the lads. He'll be happy for everyone. He is happy with the decision he made."

Still, it makes things easier now at the breakfast table when they are all finally reunited, with their father the veteran of two Ulster Championship wins.

"It definitely does," Ryan laughs. "Mark and Dad have been there and done that, thankfully I have one, but hopefully I can go on and do more."

Matchday programmes can be notoriously misleading, but Sunday's stated that McHugh weighs a sparrow-like 10 and a half stone. At 5ft 8in that would seem about right, which made the punishment he shipped all the more impressive.

Playing as a roving wing-forward who could pop up anywhere, in the second half he was making his way up the line when he was confronted by two Monaghan defenders.

He ended up on the deck with blood streaming from his face from the subsequent collisions. The only thing on his mind though was getting a fresh jersey and rejoining the play.

"You get that in Gaelic football nowadays. You take the hits," he reflected.

"They're not as sore when you win. We knew Monaghan would be hard to break down but we're just delighted to come out of it.

"There's no easy games any more whether it's league, club or whatever. But we have done the training and we showed we're in good shape and we were fit to go to the end."

An Ulster title represents quite a turnaround for Donegal over the last year. Defeat to Monaghan came just before a very public slaughtering at Croke Park, Mayo inflicting the heaviest defeat defending All-Ireland champions have ever had to accept.

Now, they are back with a team that has had a few tweaks and a number of new and fresh faces and have put the horror of last summer behind them.

"The Mayo victory was a dull day for Donegal," McHugh recalls. "But Jim (McGuinness) and the lads, they've put great belief into us, especially coming from behind.

"They told us beforehand, it doesn't matter if we go two, three, four points behind, we can win. It (the goal) did set us back a wee bit, it's only natural, but we showed great belief.

"There's a few of us winning our first Ulster and hopefully we can go on and win a few more.

"This was a big one for us. There was a lot of hurt after last year. Monaghan have been great Ulster champions and we were going in as underdogs and thankfully we came out with the victory," he finished.

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