Captain McHugh braced for Clare challenge

TYRONE captain Aoibhinn McHugh states that history has taught her not to expect anything to be handed easily to the visitors at Clare on Sunday afternoon.

The Red Hands travel to Cusack Park in Ennis chasing a last-four berth in the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship, but they are aware that the Banner girls will also be eyeing that attractive prize.

The group game meeting in 2023 ended with honours even though the Munster side has enjoyed a good record against Tyrone, with a memorable win at Doonbeg a few years back standing out.

This year Clare were promoted to Division Two, beating a fancied Roscommon in the league final. They also boast a 100 per cent win record in the group stages of the championship and appear to have an experienced line-up.

Fidelma Marrinan has top scored for the Banner in the championship, scoring four goals in a big victory over Monaghan.

There’s just three survivors in the Tyrone team from that which started against Clare in their previous All-Ireland quarter-final meeting in 2016 – Meabh Mallon, Maria Canavan and Joanne Barrett.

On that rain-lashed afternoon at Mullingar. the Munster side came out on top 2-9 to 1-4.

McHugh came into the Tyrone squad as a development member the following year and she is well aware of the threat that Clare will pose this Sunday.

“Our previous games against Clare have been tight and there is rarely much between us. No doubt it will be the same this weekend.”

The Aghyaran midfielder has appeared in all the games this season and contributed 1-8 from her centrefield role. While the Tyrone skipper expects a tough outing, she is positive that the season so far will stand them in good stead.

“We’ve had a good year and made a lot of progress. I know we have all enjoyed the year so far but the game against Clare is a challenge.”

Tyrone progressed to the Division Two Final at Croke Park and secured promotion to the top tier with an unbeaten record although the championship results have been mixed.

A loss to Monaghan in Ulster and a surprise defeat at Ballinamore against Leitrim rocked the team so a return to winning ways against Wicklow was a timely boost, admitted McHugh, who picked up a league player of the year award earlier in the year.

“We had a good performance against Wicklow and it was good to back the result up. That said we still have things we want to improve on but it was an overall positive performance that got us back on track.”

The Wicklow triumph marked the return of two key attackers after injury with Chloe McCaffrey tagging on a goal and three points from the bench and Aoife McGahan seeing her first action since last season.

The inclusion of McCaffrey could play a big part this weekend and after her injury struggles she will be itching for a start.

McHugh admits that this is now crunch time for the team with no more second chances.

“Knockout football is where you want to be and we’re looking forward to the game.”

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