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Red Hands to pose biggest test for us, says McHugh

 

By John Campbell

It's already being hailed as one of the biggest matches to be staged in Ulster for some considerable time.

The forthcoming Super8 winner-takes-all showdown between Donegal and Tyrone will ensure at least one team from the province will be in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Championship.

With Dublin already through to the last four from Group 2 of the new quarter-finals format, and Roscommon marooned at the bottom of the table, it will be all to play for when the Ulster heavyweights clash at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey on Sunday week.

Yet, although his side were crowned Ulster champions last month following their facile victory over Fermanagh in the final, Donegal playmaker Ryan McHugh admits that it was only after "a lot of soul-searching" that his side rediscovered themselves this year.

Relegation to Division Two of the league and the prospect of having to negotiate a preliminary round tie against Cavan in the Championship had heaped huge pressure on Declan Bonner's men at a time when Tyrone and Monaghan were very much perceived as being the frontrunners for the provincial title.

"At the start of the year if we had been offered the chance to be where we are today, we would have bitten someone's arm off," admits McHugh.

"Here we are facing Tyrone in what is a massive match, but we have to remember where we have come from."

"There was disappointment when we were relegated, we certainly did not set out in the league to suffer this setback that's for sure."

"We wanted to stay in Division One but you have to pick yourself up, and the great thing about football is that there is always another day.

"We took a week off after the league and we engaged in a lot of soul-searching. Then, when we got back to training the week after that, we worked hard from there on and, after we got over Cavan in the preliminary round in Ulster, things started to happen."

With Donegal and Tyrone both having beaten Roscommon in the Super8s, they are locked on two points in advance of the meeting that will decide which side is to progress further in the pursuit of 'Sam'.

McHugh, whose father Martin fulfilled the role currently occupied by his son when Donegal won the All-Ireland title in 1992, plays down the theory that home advantage could weigh heavily in his team's favour.

"I think there will be huge support for both teams, they are neighbours after all, and I don't think Tyrone will be fazed by having to play in Ballybofey," insists Ryan.

"I honestly don't believe that playing at home will be any great advantage to us."

Donegal will be without the impressive Eoghan Ban Gallagher, while Paddy McBrearty is still unavailable, but Tyrone will be minus Cathal McCarron which means each side is deprived of key players.

"We had hoped at the start of the year to get back on top in Ulster and thankfully we have achieved that but now we face a bigger challenge," states McHugh,

"We suffered a disappointment against Dublin in the Super8s before we picked ourselves up against Roscommon, but now comes this huge test against Tyrone who, like ourselves, are desperately keen to make it into the last four."

McHugh lifted the Quinn Building Products Ulster GAA Writers' Association monthly merit award for June following his outstanding displays for Donegal in the Ulster Championship, particularly in their final success against Fermanagh at Clones.

He received his award at a presentation ceremony in Quinn's Corner, Ballygawley.

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