By Niall Gartland
IF Cavan were playing anyone else in Sunday’s Ulster final, Ryan McHugh would be firmly behind their quest to win a 38th provincial crown.
Were knighthoods dished out for services to Cavan football, his father Martin would be fairly high up in the queue. He was the last man to lead the success-starved county to the Ulster final, all the way back in 1997, when they edged favourites Derry by a single point in Clones.
A post-match interview lasted all of 50 seconds as McHugh, the interviewer and an RTE camera-man were engulfed by Cavan supporters in the grip of delirium, and similar scenes are likely if they end their lengthy drought on Sunday.
Donegal showed their disregard for sentiment as they destructed neutral’s favourites Fermanagh in last year final, and Ryan McHugh – who is appearing in his SEVENTH Ulster decider– is determined that they do the business on Sunday.
“Cavan will always have a special place in the McHugh household. Unfortunately I can’t really remember that as I was only three at the time. Some of dad’s closest friends are from there, and people will always have good time for him, but I think friendships will have to be put to one side for a week. Hopefully on
Monday morning when we wake up, Donegal will have come out the right side of the result.”
1997 might be too far in the past in the distant past for McHugh, but he doesn’t have to rack his brains too hard to recall a few disappointing day outs against what might as well be this current Cavan team.
Ryan was a key member of the Donegal U-21 team that lost Ulster finals to the Breffni County in 2013 and 2014, and while those defeats cut deep, they gained some degree of revenge when a late McHugh goal snatched a dramatic victory in the following year’s quarter-final.
“Cavan got the better of us on a couple of occasions at Under 21 level.
“They definitely pipped us at Under 21 and I think to be fair, the majority of the backbone of their team are still involved.
“I think we’re in for a great occasion. The Ulster Final and Ulster Final day is always a special and unique occasion.”
McHugh was one of three Kilcar players who started Donegal’s impressive semi-final victory over Tyrone, and each man has triumphed over adversity over the course of the last 12 months.
McHugh suffered two serious concussions last season, one of which included a bleed on the brain, but he assures that there has been no lasting damage.
“What I have been told by my doctor Kevin Moran is if you take the correct time out that you’ll be 100%.
“The first time I got a concussion I was out for eight weeks and the second time, I took ten weeks off.
“Thankfully now I’m 100% all the time, and to be fair to Kevin and the Donegal medical team, if there was anything wrong like that we wouldn’t be allowed to train. Thank God, I’ve never any problems since.”
Meanwhile, his club colleague Paddy McBrearty has battled back from a cruciate injury, while Eoin McHugh was selected in the starting line-up against Tyrone after eight successive substitute appearances for Donegal.
“To be fair to Paddy, he’s a top professional and he is 100% committed to gaelic football
“He was extremely unlucky last year to pick up such a bad injury, but he has done everything completely to the letter of the law and has done all his rehab and everything he was told to do.
“He’s getting back to his best, and I think at the end of the game the last day he just kicked those couple of points that we needed.
“He’s a phenomenal footballer. He’s unbelievable and I’m fortunate enough to get to play with him at county level and club level so I see first hand what he is like.
“The amount of times that you drive out past Towney football pitch and see Paddy kicking ball is unbelievable.”
And on his cousin Eoin, he said: “It’s great to have him back. Eoin is a good footballer and he has really bulked himself up and asserted himself to what has to be done to be a Donegal footballer and he’s reaping the awards.
“He was going great (in training). Throughout the league, he just had wee hamstring knocks and he didn’t get that wee run of training you need.
“But he’s been going great since as had everybody, and to be fair to Declan, he says every training session, if you’re playing well and putting in the effort, you’re going to get rewarded with game time.”