Donegal playermaker putting the extra time to good use

FOR Donegal playmaker Ryan McHugh, familiar routines evaporated during the Covid-19 pandemic and hoped-for opportunities have given way to uncertainty.
Players have been unable to train together for months and there is a mixture of frustration and hope as talk among elite athletes switches to the new season.
At this time of year, Donegal would traditionally be navigating their way through a National League campaign with the longer evenings giving early hints that Championship football isn’t too far away.
Instead, home gyms and beach runs have become the new norm while family, friends, his relationship and job have taken on new significance for the talented Kilcar footballer. During the past year he has learned to cook and spent more time discovering the beauty that is Donegal with his partner.
A two-time All-Star Ryan (26) was the GAA Young Player of the Year in 2014. Now the enforced lay-off has allowed his body time to recover.
“The toughest part has been the uncertainty as we try to stay in the best possible physical shape. I’m fortunate to have access to a gym at home while I do a bit of running on the beach which is also good for the mental health,” he said.

Ryan is business development manager with Ocean Knowledge, a company founded by Kilcar man Declan Gallagher and his wife Kara.
The company provides speciality fertilisers for the amenity and sports turf markets. Their clients include Croke Park, Pebble Beach golf club in the US, Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Spain and The Emirates, home to Arsenal FC, in London.
“I’m blessed as a footballer and a person to have a great job at home here in Kilcar. Declan and Kara are extremely good to me and it helps that Declan has come from a sports background. He played with Kilcar and a bit with Donegal while Kara is heavily involved in the Kilcar club. They understand the needs and demands on County players and, thankfully, they give you the odd hour off here and there when it’s needed,” he said.
“We’re just a small company from Kilcar but we’re associated with some of the biggest names and sporting venues in the world. We sell to 26 countries and I’ve been fortunate to visit a few of them with Declan.
“We’re kept busy and were never laid off during lockdown. We also sell a lot of our fertiliser products to farmers.
“Much of our raw product comes from the Dungloe and Burtonport areas. The seaweed is hand-harvested and taken to Kilcar where it is made into a liquid fertiliser which we then distribute across the world,” he added.
Ryan hopes to get another opportunity to play in Croke Park this year, wearing the green and yellow colours of Donegal.
“I got the chance to get up there (Croke Park) a few months back and got speaking to the head groundsman. The pitch is always in great shape and it’s something that our company is extremely proud to be linked with as it’s one of the best surfaces in the world,” he said.
Another world-renowned playing surface helped by Ocean Knowledge is The Emirates, home to Arsenal FC – a team that Ryan has supported since he was a child.
“Declan, his son Michael, dad (Martin) and me were meant to go over last year before lockdown came but it remains on my bucket list,” he laughed.
The absence of training and playing leaves a huge void.
“You would be starting in December or January with the county and then hope that the club is still going come November-December time. It’s all year round at this stage and you’re planning your day around your football schedule. It’s all engrossing and for that to be taken away in the blink of an eye was hard to take at times.
“If anything, this past year has taught me that there’s more to life than GAA and sport. It’s definitely opened my eyes. It’s helped me reassess, take a step back and maybe not take as many things for granted as I once did,” he said.

The time-out has allowed Ryan the opportunity to take up new hobbies like cooking.
“Myself and my partner Bridget (Molloy) are in the apartment a lot more now and I’ve tried to cook a wee bit more. I’m not saying that I’m any good but I do share the cooking duties more than I used to,” he laughed.
“We’ve also got to spend more time together and it’s been really nice. We would head away on a Saturday and travel the county – when it was permitted – and visit the sites,” he said.
The break from competitive football has also allowed Ryan’s body time to heal and recuperate.
“I’ve managed to iron out a few wee niggles while I’ve also spent this past while trying to build myself up a bit. It’s given me the opportunity to work on what’s been a weakness in my game – my physique,” he said.
The Inter-County GAA calendar is expected to become much clearer next month but there’s also the matter of the 2020 Donegal Senior Championship final which has yet to be played.
“It’s a privilege to be playing in a final for Kilcar against Naomh Conaill. I do believe it will be played and it’s up to both teams to be in the best possible shape when that day arrives.
“Winning the Donegal Senior Championship with Kilcar and the All-Ireland title with Donegal is the dream for 2021. It doesn’t always work out as planned but you need dreams,” he said.
“Last year’s Ulster final (Cavan) didn’t work out as planned. We just didn’t perform on the day and we’ll be looking to put that right this summer,” he added.



Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere

and get access to our archive editions dating back to 2007
Every Thursday
Every Monday

Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. St. Anne's Court, Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland