Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tyrone want to be the kings of Ulster

Red Hands so desperate for provincial success

Winning feeling: Tyrone star Kevin Hughes (left)

Don't try telling Kevin Hughes that the Ulster Championship doesn’t matter.

It has become fashionable in some quarters to mock the provincial championship, claiming it has become outdated and irrelevant.

But the big hearted Killeeshil stalwart has a very different take on the provincial championship.

“There are those who claim that Ulster titles don’t matter anymore, but when you retire and look back on your career you always want to see how many medals you have,” he said.

“Every year we treat the Ulster Championship with the same respect as we did back in 2003 (before first All Ireland title).

“We’ve three All Irelands so it’s easy to suggest that Kerry and ourselves have dominated.

“But it should never be forgotten that Armagh are the county with seven Ulster titles in the last 10 or 11 years while we’ve just four.”

Hughes (30) loves nothing better than to be involved in the thick of the action, leading by example when games are there to be won and lost.

He marked his arrival on the national scene when he was named man of the match in the 2003 All Ireland final defeat of Armagh.

For a man who has captured All Ireland minor, Under 21 and senior medals, he remains totally unaffected by it all.

You sense too that he hasn’t quite given up on adding to his already impressive medal collection.

“I can assure you that the hunger is still there,” he added. “The day that disappears I’ll know it’s time to hang up the boots for good.

“Two years ago I had to sit out most of the season through injury.

“And as the seasons roll by you begin to take stock. I can still recall 2003 like it was yesterday, but that was all of seven years ago.

“At that stage you reckon the good times are never going to end, but you realise now, with a lot of us hitting the 30 mark, there are no guarantees we’ll be back next year.”

Hughes missed the greater part of the league through injury but earlier this month came through a fitness test with flying colours.

In addition he played five games with his club and came through unscathed.

A site engineer with O’Neill and Brady, he’s relishing the prospect of another championship.

“Antrim are a young, emerging side and very well drilled and they would remind me a bit of ourselves around 2003. It’s a potential banana skin,” he said.

“Some people might reckon we’ll win quite easily, but that won’t be the case.”

Known to friends and colleagues alike as Hub, the name could scarcely be more apt.

For all his footballing life he’s been very much at the centre of things just as he was in Tyrone’s All Ireland victories of 2003 and 2008. He missed out in 2005, but it’s typical of the man that he hasn’t a single regret.

“The boys who were there deserve every credit. I needed a break, and headed off to Australia with Brian McGuigan who returned in time to play in the final,” he recalled.

The 2010 championship could well prove to be the last throw of the dice for Hughes and some of his colleagues. There could be no greater incentive for a very special group of players.