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'We all need a laugh': GAA hero Nudie Hughes still smiling through cancer battle as he anticipates new season 


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Bright outlook: Monaghan legend Nudie Hughes cannot wait for the Allianz Football League to get under way

Bright outlook: Monaghan legend Nudie Hughes cannot wait for the Allianz Football League to get under way

Kieran Donaghy is part of the Armagh set-up this season

Kieran Donaghy is part of the Armagh set-up this season

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Bright outlook: Monaghan legend Nudie Hughes cannot wait for the Allianz Football League to get under way

Bright outlook: Monaghan legend Nudie Hughes cannot wait for the Allianz Football League to get under way

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Bright outlook: Monaghan legend Nudie Hughes cannot wait for the Allianz Football League to get under way

You can't keep a good man down, and in the case of the irrepressible Nudie Hughes even the intimidating tentacles of cancer have failed to defuse what is an unquenchable spirit.

Illness may have taken its toll to some extent on the former Monaghan ace, one of Ulster's most enduring GAA personalities, but it certainly has not thieved him of the passion for the sport that has been a key element in his life.

Both at club level with Castleblayney Faughs and the Oriel county, Nudie's enthusiasm, commitment and pride remained constants in a playing career underpinned by ambition yet garnished with more than a trace of humour.

Three Ulster championship medals and three All-Star awards came his way with Monaghan during a playing career in which his versatility proved an enduring virtue both at club and county level.

Right now, three years after his initial diagnosis with colon and liver cancer, Nudie's positivity stretches to the forthcoming Allianz League in which his beloved Monaghan are bracketed with Donegal, Armagh and Tyrone in Division One North.

If words like tests, chemotherapy and assessments have tended to infiltrate his life rather more than he might have liked, they have certainly not eroded his love of sport nor muted his personality.

Indeed, the return to games cannot come soon enough for someone who freely admits he has "lived for football."

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"I think the Allianz League will be very interesting indeed," muses Nudie.

"Monaghan are rebuilding, while Tyrone are under new managers in Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher. And it will be interesting to see what impact Kieran Donaghy will have with Armagh, while Donegal will be keen to make up lost ground after their fall to Cavan in last year's Ulster final.

"I honestly think that Armagh have a good panel but it remains to be seen just how they are coached. Donaghy could maybe have a big say along with Kieran McGeeney."

But if Division One normally grabs the lion's share of the headlines, Nudie is in no doubt where the spotlight might fall this time round.

"I'll be keeping a very close eye on Division Four North," he reveals.

"Sure you couldn't ask for a better mix. Mickey Harte will be making his debut with Louth, Tony McEntee will want to make an impact with Sligo, you have Enda McGinley and Stephen O'Neill with Antrim and Cavan's own Terry Hyland is in there with Leitrim.

"I think that the new managers will be very keen to create a good impression early doors and this should result in some cracking games."

While the league holds a particular fascination for Nudie, he has very firm views on the All-Ireland Football Championship.

"Despite the huge Covid-19 threat last year, the fact that the All-Ireland series was played on a knock-out basis gave it a whole new gloss. It was very compelling, and while Cavan surprised us all by winning the Ulster Championship, Dublin showed that they are still the team to beat," reflects Nudie.

"It was brilliant to see matches coming week after week and I hope that this will be the case again this year. I have just lived for football and I know many people who are similarly afflicted!"

And he is keeping his fingers crossed that sooner rather than later spectators will be allowed to attend games.

"We need people at the matches, there is no doubt about that," maintains Nudie (above).

"It's not the same without the fans there. I know that other sports like rugby and soccer are similarly affected at the minute and I can understand the reasons why, but at the same time I am very hopeful things will improve."

While the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in untold suffering throughout the country as a whole, Nudie, despite his own grave health issues, believes that "a positive spirit" can prove an invaluable ally.

Known for his sense of humour as much as his football, he is never short of a yarn or two that would brighten anyone's day. And even his manner in relating an incident would have you chuckling before he had finished!

"I was in the Mater Hospital in Dublin a few weeks ago and I was the second last in a line for chemo," he recalls with a cheeky grin.

"A woman walked by and then suddenly realised we were in a queue. She apologised but I just said to her, 'Not at all - sure there's one for everybody in the audience. It's like the lotto - if you're not in, you can't win'.

"I'm very lucky that I can still interact with people in these times and keep a positive spirit. When you crack a joke like that, when it's not being smart or insulting, when you can break the ice with strangers, it helps, because everyone has their own challenges at the moment and we all need a laugh."


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