Danny Hughes has spent a decade as an integral part of the Down attack yet he takes nothing for granted in terms of his selection for big games.
Prior to his county’s Ulster Championship quarter-final win against Fermanagh last month the Saval clubman spent more time on the treatment table and in the hands of the physiotherapists than he did on the training ground yet he still managed to turn in his usual diligent shift against Peter Canavan’s side.
But although viewed as something of a fixture in the Mourne line-up, Hughes is conscious that competition for places in the side has hotted up considerably in the build-up to Sunday’s provincial semi-final against Monaghan.
“Even though we were without Benny Coulter for the game against Fermanagh — and he’s always a big loss — there were still boys who were able to step up to the mark and help us to get the win,” reflects Hughes, “And now there are others who are very keen to get starting places against Down. I’ve played in the last 10 Ulster Championships but I certainly take nothing for granted in terms of selection.
“It’s nice to be needed of course but the day I feel that I am not needed I will know to walk away.”
The all-action Hughes makes no secret of his craving for an Ulster medal as he prepares for a game which he believes is fraught with danger for his team.
“Every year we start out with hopes of maybe lifting the Ulster title but during my time in the side Armagh and Tyrone have had a virtual monopoly on the title,” ,” added Hughes.
“Our win over Fermanagh has given us encouragement but Monaghan are a tough, hard side who can mix it and yet play very good football.
His experience, craft and selfless link work between defence and attack have helped to make him one of the most complete players in the province but Hughes believes that his work ethic is now shared by the newer players in Down’s line-up.
“Against Fermanagh, Conor Laverty and Donal O’Hare stood up to be counted in great style and this will give them confidence for Sunday’s game,” points out Hughes, “Monaghan may have been relegated in the league but that should not disguise the fact that they have a lot of very good players.
“They reached the Ulster final a couple of years ago and felt they did not do themselves justice on that occasion so they will be very keen to get there again and make a better fist of things.”
But if Monaghan’s ambition is strong, then Down’s desire to return to the top of the provincial tree for the first time since 1994 is all-consuming.
“That is our big aim,” admits Hughes. “We are very keen to get back up there. Our manager James McCartan has been battling against injuries for the most part this year but while there are still a couple of key players out we have other boys back on board.”