McHugh set for return to Ulster Championship arena

AS Donegal lost their Championship opener against Down last April, Ryan McHugh was watching from afar.

The Kilcar man played two years at county minor level and then joined up straight away with the senior panel so he was involved in the championship opener every year since 2011.

However last season, he made the difficult decision to step away from the panel after the league.


He hadn’t played a minute of football as he struggled with injuries and was certainly missed as Donegal were beaten by the Mourne county by five points.

“I wasn’t up at it no,” McHugh told the Donegal News.

“I think I was at home in Kilcar. I had something on the next day as far as I remember.

“It was the first Ulster Championship game for Donegal that I wasn’t at it in a long, long time.

“It wasn’t a decision that I made lightly and it’s not one I ever thought I’d make.

“I love my county and every opportunity I get to pull on the Donegal jersey, I cherish it so it definitely was a big decision.

“It was extremely tough to tell the family because they have been supporting me all down through the years.


“But just with different circumstances and the way my body was, it just worked out the way it did.

“I had to make a decision and you live by the sword and die by it, and it’s just something I have to live with.”

McHugh (30) has excelled for Donegal so far and he is eagerly awaiting today’s big match.

There is an ever growing apathy towards the provincial championships nationwide, but the battle for honours in Ulster remains as keen as ever.

Ryan McHugh and Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher.

“I definitely don’t think it has had its day. It’s a very special competition to us here in Donegal.

“I have been extremely fortunate to be on the right side winning Ulster titles, and I have also been disappointed to be on the losing team a couple of times.

“I think Jim has touched on it that it’s being undermined a wee bit and I would agree with him.

“The Ulster Championship is a very special competition and I can’t comment on Leinster, Munster, or Connacht but the Ulster Championship is very special to us and to see it being played so early in the year, it is a wee bit unfair.

“Monaghan and Cavan were out (in the first round) and they could have been in league finals and to only get one week break is undermining the competition and I would like to see it be given the respect it deserves.

“We will give it everything against Derry and see where it takes us.”

With the split season now in play, the intercounty campaign is much more condensed than what it was when McHugh first broke through but he doesn’t see who that is helping.

“Personally I do think it is far too condensed at the minute. Don’t get me wrong as a player you want to be playing games but I do think that the slightest wee injury at the minute is putting people out for three or four weeks and you could miss two or three games which I do think is unfair.

“In terms of the club scene, I’m not playing any more games for Kilcar than before.

“I can’t see the benefits that it is supposed to be bringing at the minute.

He added: “Even from a media point of view, we are not being fit to promote our games well enough.

“By the time, you’re finished talking about one game, you’re into the next game and we’re not getting the chance to promote our games worldwide and within our county. The All-Ireland Final is in July which is the busiest month of the year for people going on holidays.

“I’m not saying go back to what it was but I would love to see it stretched out again.”

McHugh has a huge passion for football, and before the league match with Meath in MacCumhaill Park in March, he was spotted watching the Donegal minors earlier in the day against Down.

“I love football.

“I was going to matches with dad since I was seven years of age.

“He was fortunate enough to be working with BBC at the time and I was fortunate enough to be in a position to get up to meet the people he was working with at that time – you had Kieran McGeeney and Peter Canavan, and Jarlath Burns.

“I loved it and every weekend I would be in the car with dad and away to matches, and still to this day, every chance I get to watch football that’s what I will be doing because I do love it.

“It doesn’t really bother me what age group. I’m helping out with the Kilcar minors this year and hopefully it won’t be for a good few years yet but when I do retire, I would love to get involved with coaching.

“It’s something that’s going to be in my life. I’ve grown up with it and I know no different. My dad and my mum instilled it from a young age.

“It has served me very well. I have been fortunate to be involved in some great teams and apart from my wedding day, the best days of my life so far have involved football.”

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