With Gaelic games in lockdown until at least July 20 due to the deadly coronavirus, Sunday Life Sport has introduced a series with Armagh's All-Ireland winner and Crossmaglen legend Oisin McConville, chatting with 11 of the biggest names in the sport.
Today it's Ryan McHugh, an instantly recognisable figure within the GAA. He burst onto the scene in 2013 on the back of a stellar under-age career.
When Ryan became part of the Donegal squad he was coming in to try and grab his place with the reigning All-Ireland champions. Not only that, but he came into the game of Gaelic football at a time when the big men were dominating and unless you were 6ft-plus and at least 13 stone there didn't seem to be a place in the game for you.
I think that is what makes his feats on the pitch even more remarkable. He became not only an instant starter but arguably their most important player.
Versatile and deadly, Ryan has picked up three Ulster titles and two All Stars. Small in stature but big in heart, McHugh is excelling against the odds, giving hope to footballers all over the country and getting better with age and experience.
Oisin: As an athlete, how have you adapted to the current situation as regards training and family?
Ryan: Training hasn’t been ideal, but I would consider myself lucky to be living where I’m living. We have beaches and quiet roads for running and I’ve a gym at the house, so I would consider myself lucky to have all that at my disposal. I’ve been focusing mainly on the gym stuff. I’ve been using the opportunity to get more powerful. It’s not often you get the chance to focus on a certain area for a sustained period, but this situation has given me that opportunity, which is a definite positive in what is obviously a difficult situation. As regards family, it’s given me some extra time with the family. My dad has a small farm at home, so that’s given us all a little interest.
Oisin: What do you miss most?
Ryan: Simple, football. Specifically, meeting up with the lads.
Oisin: What input has your club and county had during this time?
Ryan: Club lads have been getting sessions from the strength and conditioning coach, which has kept them going. I’ve been lucky as I’ve decided to focus on becoming more powerful. The Donegal strength and conditioning coach has been brilliant in that regard and working with him and the physios has allowed me to do that. Other guys are working on different areas and that can all be tracked through the GPS systems we have. We still do the 5k runs and mix it up that way.
Oisin: Your schedule has been pretty hectic with club and county. Do you feel that the enforced rest has done you good?
Ryan: Time will tell if I’ve spent the break in a way that is beneficial to me. As I say, the focus on one area is something you don’t normally get with how manic the GAA season is. Playing football is what everyone wants to be doing. We should be in the thick of the season now and there is no replacement for playing football.
Oisin: You’ve had a number of concussions in the past. As a result, you have talked about changing your style of play. Has that been possible?
Ryan: Well, my game has definitely changed. Last year and this year I have concentrated a lot more on becoming a better defender and improving my ability to mark a man. Thankfully, Donegal have focused on kicking the ball more than running it, so the collisions and hits are not as sustained as they were a few years ago. I’ve been lucky in the treatment I have received in Donegal. We have Dr Kevin Moran and he has been brilliant in looking after me. I suppose the concussion stuff gets more worrying when you go down to club or college level, where there aren’t the doctors and specialists that I am lucky enough to have at my disposal.
Oisin: Could the GAA be made safer?
Ryan: Well, it could always be safer, but the big deterrent has come from the fact that head high challenges have been more severely punished than before.
Oisin: Is there extra pressure coming from a prestigious GAA family?
Ryan: Not at all. I grew up knowing nothing else. I’ve never thought of it as pressure, I’ve just embraced it and enjoyed it for what it is.
Oisin: What advice have your dad, uncle and brother given you? Have they been supportive?
Ryan: They are by no means overbearing. I suppose to begin with I followed their lead a lot. I was always at games as a youngster, seeing different counties. With my dad working with the BBC, I got to plenty of big games, which I loved and learned a lot from, not to mention meeting some of the best players in the country.
Oisin: Do you think the GAA should return to action or are they better to be cautious?
Ryan: As much as everyone would love to have it back, they will have to wait until it is safe.
Oisin: You’ve always been a dynamic and exciting player. What have you added to your game in recent years?
Ryan: Defending has been the main one, as I said. I look at Paddy Durcan from Mayo and guys like that and how they have improved in that regard. My shooting has improved also and I’ve managed to develop my left foot and become more accurate.
Oisin: Donegal are looking to retain their Ulster crown. How good are you this year?
Ryan: Well, we are in a good place, but we can’t stand still. We have to keep pushing on. You just have to look at the sort of players we have coming through. They are gaining more experience in what is still a very young team. We have players like Michael Langan, Jason McGee and Oisín Gallen. This will be a big year for these lads.
Oisin: What about going on in the hunt for Sam or getting out of the Super 8s?
Ryan: I just think we have been unlucky. We lost Paddy McBrearty, which was a big blow. We’ve come up short, but only just, so I don’t think it’s anything mentally. I’m sure it will happen as we mature as a team.
Oisin: What about your rivalries? Which one is your favourite?
Ryan: It was Monaghan when I first came into the panel. In Ulster, definitely Tyrone now. Obviously, Dublin are the ones to topple when it comes to winning All-Irelands.
Oisin: Would you like the GAA to become professional?
Ryan: As much as I would love to be paid to play football, I don’t think it fits with the ethos of the GAA. It’s amateur and that’s what makes it the great organisation it is.
Oisin: What changes need to me made?
Ryan: Well the offensive mark is something that I don’t like. It slows the game down dramatically and I just don’t think there is a need for it. Other than that, I wish they would stop making changes and leave the game alone.
Oisin: What other sports do you like apart from the GAA?
Ryan: I’m big in to golf at the minute and enjoy playing it. I enjoy basketball and soccer too.
Oisin: Can you give me one Donegal player to look out for this year?
Ryan: Oisín Gallen.
Oisin: Who has been your toughest opponent?
Ryan: Mayo’s Lee Keegan. He marked me in 2015 and it was a rude awakening. I have always strived to get to that level and it’s not easy. He is some player — tough, strong, quick and ruthless.
Oisin: Which player in Ireland do you admire most right now?
Ryan: James McCarthy from Dublin. He is so consistent, his level is always eight or nine out of 10 and he is so versatile. He can play anywhere and look comfortable.