McHugh excited by Red Hand replay

By Shaun Casey

OF the 15 competitive games Donegal have already played this season, 11 of them have been against Ulster opposition and they kickstart their All-Ireland charge on Saturday afternoon against another familiar foe in Tyrone.

Of course, that included the McKenna Cup and Ulster Championship campaigns, while the northern province was well represented in Division Two, which Donegal won after beating Armagh by one point in the final.

It’s just four weeks since Jim McGuinness’ men knocked the Red Hand County out of the Ulster Championship, by two points after extra-time, but the pair lock horns once again this weekend.

Four-time Ulster champion Ryan McHugh, who was named the Player of the Month for April, is looking forward to another all-Ulster clash and hopes that home advantage can spur Donegal on to victory.

“Division Two was like a wee Ulster league within itself,” said the Donegal wing-back ahead of Saturday’s clash. “You had ourselves, Armagh, Cavan and Fermanagh as well so we’re well used to playing each other up here.

“I know it’s a cliché, but there’s no point lying, we’re not looking past Tyrone. We’re not even thinking of Cork or Clare yet.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time, we’ll try and get over Tyrone first and then we’ll reassess things after that.”

Donegal only played two league games in Ballybofey, which both ended in victories over Cork and Meath, but lost out to Tyrone in that same venue last season in the playoff round of the All-Ireland series.

“Things definitely are not getting any easier for us anyway,” added McHugh, who wasn’t part of the squad last year.

“We’ve played three top teams (Derry, Tyrone and Armagh) and now getting to play another one of them again, it’s challenging, but it’s great. At the same time, there’s been a lot of Ulster derbies and we’re going to have another one.

“Thankfully, it’s in Ballybofey and it’s a huge lift for us getting the game there and getting to come back to the people of Donegal.

“We haven’t played a championship match in Ballybofey this year yet, so hopefully there’s going to be a huge, huge crowd at it.

“That’s something that we’re going to look forward to. It’s going to be another huge encounter and from Donegal’s point of view, hopefully we can come out the right side of it, whether that be one point or whatever it is.”

McHugh didn’t get on the scoresheet the last day out against Tyrone and was tightly marked by Seanie O’Donnell while Oisin Conaty had the same success against the versatile Kilcar clubman in the Ulster final.

But McHugh did come up with some vital plays in the latter stages of their narrow win over Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan’s side and really came to the fore with some crucial contributions when the game looked to be slipping from their hands.

On another day, it would have been Tyrone who advanced to the Ulster final and battled it out with Armagh for the Anglo Celt Cup, but Donegal showed that battling character that McGuinness has installed in them.

They had to call on those reserves once again in the decider, as they came from four points down in the final quarter of normal time to force extra-time, where again they clawed back a two-point margin to win via penalties.

“It was maybe similar enough to the Ulster final.

“In the Tyrone game we were three points down and it didn’t look good,” recalled the experienced 30-year-old. “Call the spade a spade, it definitely didn’t look good at the time.

“But I think it’s something that has been instilled in this team. I suppose it’s Jim, to be fair, that’s brought that in, that there is a never-say-die attitude. It’s easy saying that, it’s different going and actually doing it.

“I think how we’ve proven that is that we know we’ve got the work put in on the training pitch and we knew we’d be fit to finish strong because of the work we have put in.

“I think we showed that in the Ulster final and the Tyrone game, especially in extra-time when we did get ahead and we were fit to kick on.

“Obviously, this next game is going to be a completely different game again but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”

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