National Football League Division One
Tyrone v Donegal
Sunday, Ballybofey, 4pm
DONEGAL star Ryan McHugh does not think he will have to adapt his game ahead of the forthcoming winter championship.
He thrives on the hard sod and the dry ball, but there might not be much of either over the next couple of weeks with Donegal.
The ground will be wet and heavy, and there may not be as much opportunity for those renowned darts up the field.
The Kilcar man doesn’t think he will have to change his approach, but has had to sort new footwear.
“I bought a new pair of boots with studs if that counts.
“I don’t think you do. You still go out to play the same way.
“Tactics will probably stay the same, and you’ll be trying to play the same way.
“I think the most important thing will be skill execution during a game. That pass now really has to go to chest, whereas maybe in the summer if it’s a yard or two away, you might get it.
“I think that’s the biggest part with winter football and pitches are good nowadays to be fair.
“I’m looking out the window now and the sun is shining in beautiful Kilcar so I think you can get just as good of a day during the winter as the summer.
“I don’t think tactics will really differ as much as people think going forward.
“It might suit a bigger, physical team, but time will tell.”
Donegal will play their first game in over seven months on Sunday when they take on Tyrone in the league.
It has been a strange year for everyone, and McHugh found his usual routine parked.
Since he was Under 16, McHugh has been making the journey to either MacCumhaill Park or Convoy, or somewhere central in the county for training during April, May, and June.
First it was with the Buncrana Cup panel, then he had two years with the county minors, and was subsequently called into the senior team when he was 19.
There was no training to attend during that time this year, and McHugh had to fill the void. However, he didn’t lose focus, and concentrated on areas which needed improvement.
“It was different.
“It does take over your life, you might have three football sessions during the week and then two or three gym sessions, so you’re talking five or six days a week.
“The other days you’re trying to recover or you are out and about practising.
“It does take over your life and when all of that came to a halt, it did take me two or three weeks to get my head around it and to reassess things.
“I looked at it as an opportunity to work on things that I thought I was weak at.
“I just worked on trying to get that bit more physical and become a better defender.
“I had boxing gloves in the house so I worked at trying to get quicker hands.
“I worked closely with the S&C coaches, Aaron Kyles and Paul Fisher and built that stuff into my gym sessions.
“Whether I have got better at it or not time will tell.”
By Barry O’Donnell
THE condensed nature of the Division One table means that neither Tyrone nor Donegal can afford to ease up in their National League clash this Sunday, despite the more meaningful Ulster Championship meeting now looming into focus, Conall McCann believes.
Ordinarily in such a scenario the respective managers would keep a few tricks up their sleeve in the League tie, given the higher stakes at play in the follow-up clash, but should Mayo beat Galway earlier in the day, then the loser at Ballybofey will be right in the relegation mix heading into the final round of NFL games.
Conall McCann, who played a starring role in Killyclogher’s recent Senior League triumph, feels such a perilous fate on the last day is to be avoided at all costs, though he accepts that Sunday could still represent something of a phoney war.
“It’s hard to say. I don’t know if the two teams will want to give too much away. With the Donegal Senior Final not being played their plans are disrupted because the Kilcar players and Glenties players have been focusing on that.
“So Donegal might be a bit depleted. The big game is two weeks later obviously so we might go with lads who have impressed at training, who knows.
“With both teams in the mix and the Division being so tight you can’t afford to throw the game away either or you could still be in relegation bother.
“But it’s definitely not ideal playing a team two weeks before you meet them in the Championship. If that was a club match teams probably wouldn’t field but you can’t do that at inter-county level. We will have to wait and see.”
After a thrilling club season in Tyrone, the spotlight will now be on the top echelon footballers across the country to try replicate that level of excitement.
Unfortunately it appears increasingly likely that the drama will take place behind closed doors, due to escalating Covid concerns, and Tyrone star McCann acknowledges that the scenario awaiting them will be somewhat surreal.
However he feels that if anything the lack of spectators at MacCumhail Park could benefit the away team, Tyrone in the upcoming two matches.
“It will be very interesting to see how it unfolds. The great thing about any Championship occasion is driving up in the bus and seeing the grounds along the route or congregating outside the ground. That really gets you buzzing. It’s one of the best highs you can get.
“You like playing in front of big crowds, the atmosphere gets you going. In another way momentum is key. If a team gets a few scores quickly it gets the crowd going and cheering. I suppose that will impact the home team a bit more so no crowds could be a leveller in that regard. It will be like playing in an empty training field more or less even though the stakes are still very high.”
By Frank Craig
ENDA McGinley admits that the absence of Cathal McShane from the Tyrone attack is a real blow for Mickey Harte ahead of their return to NFL action against Donegal at the weekend.
With Conor McKenna having returned from Australia and with the likes of Dungannon star Paul Donaghy likely to be given his chance to stake a claim; the prospect of McShane as the focal point to all of that would have had Red Hand supporters licking their lips.
Last year’s All-Star full-forward sustained a nasty ankle injury during a NFL clash with Galway at Tuam back in February.
He seemed to be on the road to recovery but a setback suffered at the start of August has now ruled him out for the season.
The 24-year-old Owen Roes man was always going to miss the Ulster Championship first round meeting with Donegal had it been played on the scheduled date in May, but the Covid-19 pandemic seemed like it was going to buy him the requisite time.
Such was his progress in recovery following surgery that he himself expressed real confidence that he would be fit for the new date for the provincial series opener on November 1.
However, his rehabilitation has not gone as well as hoped. And McGinley – a physiotherapist by trade – says McShane’s task now is simply to make sure he puts everything into his rehab to make sure he’s back for 2021. “Yeah, it’s so disappointing for Cathal. With the lockdown, you thought the time would be absolutely perfect for him and that we’d have him back. Obviously, he’s had a setback. “The type of injury is a particularly nasty one. There is no guarantees with it. The hope has to be, long term, he makes it back fully fit. Yes, we’d love to have him now. But it’s more about the big picture.
“Again, there is that excitement element. And pairing the likes of Cathal and Conor, even with the possibility of Peter Harte moving position, it’s all really exciting.”