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How coronavirus impacts life on the farm, according to Monaghan GAA star Darren Hughes


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Tucked away: Darren Hughes is already isolated on his farm

Tucked away: Darren Hughes is already isolated on his farm

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Tucked away: Darren Hughes is already isolated on his farm

With most of the UK and Republic of Ireland on lockdown, there's a little corner of Ballinode, Scotstown that doesn't quite feel so oppressive.

Monaghan midfielder Darren Hughes spends a good portion of his day up in the cab of a tractor tending to his dairy farm, a world away from the changing circumstances that others are battling at present.

"Getting cows out grazing, keeping them right, spreading slurry - it's all go. Slurry out last week, fertiliser this week," he said.

The change in the world with the threat of Covid-19 doesn't affect him in that sense.

"I am self-isolated anyway. The only thing I am not doing that I would be is rushing and packing my bags for half six every evening to go to training," he explained.

"I sell from the yard here. I have only wee calves to get sold, so I don't go to the mart with them. It's handy enough. It's a couple of the same men every year that buy my calves."

That's not to say his business is unaffected. Hughes is a milk producer for Lakeland Dairies and there is no hiding place, even in a quiet corner of Monaghan, from the world's economy.

"Our biggest fear would be if they stopped collecting milk, and we would have to dump the milk," he explained.

"There is only a small percentage of our milk that goes on shelves. Most of it goes to foreign markets in powder form, so there is already a backlog of stuff that hasn't gone into China in the last few months. It's a supply and demand market. The supply is there but the demand is not, with the supply in containers waiting to get in."

More locally, the pinch is also being felt.

"Our Lakeland suppliers, they do all the UHT milk for McDonald's and others, so the McDonald's are all closed down and that's another market gone.

"The hotels are all closed, so there's another dent on demand. There is only so much milk people will drink."

With childminding services also off for now, he finds himself having to juggle commitments with his wife Orla, who is a lecturer in Jordanstown (Ulster University) and has to continue distance learning with pupils and having video calls with the staff. In the middle of it all is their daughter Ava, who is coming up to her second birthday in May.

"She is just at that age where you can't keep her in the house so she is lucky you have the farm and loads of fields to go for a walk around, and unlucky in the sense that you have to go and do it!" he said.

For now, though, he is determined to remain positive about the new normal.

"As much as you feel you are affected, you are not as affected as other people, those that are completely locked up in the house and are going nowhere, not even out of the house," said the Scotstown man. "I am sitting in the back field up on a tractor now. It's a different scenario.

"I know people who are working in the commercial environment who are all working from home and they are using Zoom calls all day long just to talk."

He doesn't have to look too far for others affected by the shutdown. His brother Kieran is a sales rep for a plastic tanks company and with all the hardware shops closing up, his work has been interrupted, while Monaghan forward Conor McManus is an estate agent, with that market also stalled.

It's been almost a month since Monaghan's last training session and like all other squads, Seamus McEnaney's men find themselves in limbo. Hughes explained: "It is hard for a strength and conditioning coach to gauge programmes when you don't know what you are aiming towards, or what date you will be going again. You have to be realistic and think of it starting again in August at the earliest."

Belfast Telegraph