Ryan McHugh has put his injuries behind him and is now concentrating his efforts on getting Donegal back to Division 1 and preparing for the defence of the Ulster SFC come summer.
A serious concussion injury with bleeding on the brain meant McHugh was sidelined in the autumn and missed out on Kilcar’s attempt to win back-to-back Donegal SFC titles. He could only watch on as Gaoth Dobhair became champions of Donegal and then Ulster.
“It was one of those kind of injuries that is strange because when you are looking at somebody, you don’t think there is anything wrong with them,” McHugh said yesterday. “You get the dizziness and all that. It’s a strange injury in that you can’t go to the gym to build it up, you just have to rest. Stay away from mobile phones and computers, which is difficult in this day and age.
“I was so engrossed it would be more mum and dad who were worried when they heard it was a bleed on the brain, but I was just so engrossed in trying to get back with Donegal I was not thinking about it.
“You have to build yourself up and get over it. I really don’t know that much, I put my full trust in Dr Kevin Moran and he handled it extremely professionally.”
McHugh is from perhaps the most famous footballing family. He has won an All-Star, as has his brother Mark for his part in helping Donegal to the 2012 All-Ireland title, while his father Martin and uncle James were also All Stars when Sam Maguire first came to the Hills back in 1992.
“You want to play for your club, especially when you are defending champions, you want to be out there playing,” he said. “It is what it is, but you take medical advice and you have to think about later on in life and thankfully I am good again.
“All you want to do is play football. My father keeps telling me that my career is short and you want to play in every game possible. The hardest thing you can do is to stand watching it, because you want to be middle of it.”
McHugh is back in action for Declan Bonner’s youthful Donegal, who have now won two from two in Division 2 of the Allianz League.
A 0-16 to 0-13 win over Clare in Ennis was followed up by Saturday’s 1-13 to 0-14 success over Meath in Ballybofey. They travel to Tipperary this weekend.
Donegal have still to introduce the likes of their captain Michael Murphy, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath and McHugh’s Kilcar clubmate Patrick McBrearty —who is out with a cruciate injury picked up in last year’s Ulster final win over Fermanagh, but is hopeful of being back to face the same team in the Ulster quarter-final in May.
As well as that, the Gaoth Dobhair connection will return after their run in the All-Ireland Club SFC concludes. The team managed by Mervyn O’Donnell take on Corofin from Galway on Saturday week in Carrick-on-Shannon in the semi-final.
“There are a lot of good footballers in Donegal, exciting footballers who are coming through and we have boys coming back,” 24-year-old McHugh added.
“The first three matches will bring on the players that are there. I read Martin McElhinney, who said this is the most exciting squad he has been involved in since he started and I would have to agree. There are some really exciting top-class players.
“I read a stat that I was the oldest forward in the Clare game. That’s hard to believe. The boys who are coming back are all extremely talented footballers.”
Meanwhile, Tyrone legend Owen Mulligan says that both Kerry and Mayo have made “wee boys” out of the Red Hands in the Allianz League so far. The former footballer, a three-time All-Ireland winner, told Paddy Power News that his county are suffering from an “All-Ireland hangover”, losing 0-11 to 0-7 to Kerry in their opener, then falling 2-10 to 0-13 to Mayo.
“Kerry and Mayo have made wee boys out of us, it was hard to watch,” said Mulligan. “We made key mistakes against Kerry and proceeded to do the exact same thing against Mayo. Tyrone getting beat by nine points at home doesn’t happen and it was embarrassing.”