KEVIN McHugh wears the Finn Harps captaincy as a real badge of honour.
As he enters his thirteenth season as a Harps player, the striker – on 172 goals from 364, a ratio of a goal just over every two games – is well aware of the significance of 2014.
Harps are celebrating their 60th year in existence; it is forty years since Jim Sheridan and company won the FAI Cup in 1974 and ten years since McHugh starred in the team that won the First Division title.
McHugh is unique in that he remembers dizzy nights by the Finn and the Killea man’s voice gets sharper as he talks of being the captain at Finn Park, following in the footsteps of men like Sheridan and Declan Boyle, whose trophy-hoisting images are stitched into Harps’ tapestry.
“I know how big this football club is,” McHugh says.
“I’ve been there and seen what the old place (Finn Park) can be like when it’s packed. Looking back at some of the memories at Finn Park on big nights, it still makes you tingle. I’ve been to Cup finals and seen thousands of people in blue and white. Those very supporters are still out there.
“They are just hoping Harps can start going forward and they will be back. When we’re out in the streets wearing Harps gear, we want to be proud of that. We want supporters to be proud wearing the badge too.”
Harps fell on lean times after being relegated from the Premier Division in 2008 and haven’t managed to keep up a promotion challenge since. In recent times, the very future of the club, close to being bucket-collection broke on occasion, has been in jeopardy.
McHugh keeps a close watch on the happenings behind the scenes down Navenny Street.
As the curtain slides open on another new League of Ireland season, McHugh has grown tired of the barbed comments thrown their way.
“We want a bit of respect back into the club,” he says.
“It cracks me up to see people being negative just for the sake of it about Finn Harps, or to see people dissing the club, kicking Harps when they’re down.
“There are clubs all over the world who go into ruts. Finn Harps has had financial woes in the last while, but a lot of people have been working very hard to get their house in order.
“We have been trying our best on the field, too. Obviously it hasn’t worked out for us.”
With home games against Waterford United, Cobh Ramblers and Galway FC inside the opening four weeks of the season – not to mention a League Cup clash against Ulster Senior League winners Cockhill Celtic on Monday night – Harps will be under local scrutiny early on.
“It’s important to lay a marker early but, as we saw from last season, a good start mightn’t count for much either,” says McHugh.
“We’re gunning for a good start.
“We want to make Finn Park a hard place to come to for away teams and with a volume of home games early on we need to set the tone in those fixtures.”
McHugh keeps his own personal aims for the season and is a tough task-master on himself.
“Scoring goals,” he states. “I always want to get into double figures.”
The good folks at Paddy Power have made him a 12/1 shot to be the First Division.
“Jeez, those odds get longer as the years go on, don’t they?” he laughs.
“Personal targets are important in that if I’m scoring goals or the boys at the back are keeping their clean sheets then the team should be doing well. That said, it’s the collective goals that matter.
“I’d rather set up goals and get three points rather than score myself and get a draw. But my job is to score goals – and that’s what I want to do.
“I don’t have the pace I had when I was in my teens or my twenties. I’m not saying that I’m sluggish or anything but I have had to adjust my game.
“Playing out the right for Derry City that time I had to play a different game. Playing different positions helps you to see a bigger picture. I’m trying now to link play up and be a bit more involved like that. But scoring goals is still what keeps me going.”
A former team-mate asked him during the closed season why he was back, but here he is, standing at the head of the queue asking the operator for another run on the League of Ireland’s ferris wheel.
You wonder, wouldn’t be easier to head for the sunset?
“Na, I feel good and I think I’m good enough,” he says.
“When I was 17 I was trying to prove that I was good enough for this level – that kept me going for two or three years; when I was around the mid 20s, it was always about proving that I was the best and could compete the best; when you get over a certain age it’s about proving that you’re good enough to play at the level.”
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