Bin bags, spuds, scores and success - the story of Monaghan great 'Nudie' Hughes
RUSTLING noises at Monaghan training in the ’80s were always a sign that the Championship was approaching.
If the black bags were out, ‘Nudie’ Hughes was getting ready for battle.
Talismanic forward ‘Nudie’ (he was christened Eugene) would train wrapped in bin-liners to sweat off excess weight and he went through the ringer to lose “a comfortable stone” before the Farneymen embarked on their Ulster campaign.
In the days before the Celtic Tiger, things were different for footballers and like most, Nudie worked, came home to a feed of spuds and then went out to train.
Two-footed, quick and fearless, he trained hard, there was no shortage of commitment, but his time (1975-1989) came before science revolutionized sport with dieticians, strength and conditioning coaches, GPS stats and the rest.
“Some of us were inclined to put on a bit of weight,” admitted the Castleblayney Faughs legend who won 10 county and two Ulster titles with his club and three Ulster Championships and three Allstars with Monaghan during his 14-year inter-county career.
The bin bags acted as a sweatsuit and the idea for using them had been taken from watching boxers prepare for a pre-fight weigh-in.
“You’d train extremely hard with the bags on and you could hear the rustling of the plastic underneath your top,” Hughes, the 10th of 14 children, recalls.
“It was funny in ways, but it was painful to train like that.
“You’d shift a comfortable stone coming into the Championship and you had to do it because the competition for places at that time was very strong.
“You wouldn’t get that nowadays because what they feed you now puts on the weight in the areas you need it. But I went from the building trade to the beef industry and when you were working manually you used to get your dinner when you were finished and you were glad to get it.
“I went through every walk of life before I was fortunate enough that I ended up working for Bass.”
On the subject of Bass, were 'drink bans' imposed on the players back in those days by county manager Sean McCague?
“No, Sean knew the people he could trust,” Nudie explains.
“There were some characters who would have a few extra but for 95 per cent of the team, when Sean McCague asked for something to be done, we did it.”
Just as scientific training methods and pasta and chicken replaced the black bags and the bacon and cabbage, a manager’s trust and respect for a group of adults has, in some cases, been replaced by a dictatorial regime in county panels.
“There was better fun in my day and we were equally as committed,” says Hughes.
“The difference now is the structure has totally changed and the skills levels aren’t the same because it’s possession at all times. Winning your own ball doesn’t matter as much now because they don’t kick the ball that often.
“When you look at the passes now, it’s getting to be like the Barcelona game – it’s all short passing and keeping the ball. The skill level and the creativity of the individual is being smothered and that’s why I can see the game struggling.
“They’re all great at running off the shoulder but you don’t see one-on-ones as often now in Ulster because the ball goes back more times than it goes forward.”
He says change is needed at county board level to restore a balance between the club game and the county game.
“The pressure is on the players now and county managers are demanding more and more of the players,” he said.
“I think county boards have to stand up somewhere along the line and cap the money that is being spent on county teams.
“The boards have to be strong in what they are able to deliver to the managers – they are looking for four or five weeks with no club games and the best form of keeping yourself sharp is to play football and play with your club.
“Players have to learn to get back to the club situation and if they have discipline with their clubs they’ll have discipline with the counties.”
Hughes, now a popular pundit on Northern Sound radio, may have reservations about the modern game but he is counting down the minutes to throw-in at Clones next Saturday when his beloved Farneymen take on Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship preliminary round.
In the 1980s, Monaghan looked to him, Ray McCarron and his clubmate Eamonn McEneaney. Nowadays, the peerless Conor McManus leads the way and this season he’ll have scoring assistance from the emerging Jack McCarron.
“They’re a very good, solid team,” says Hughes, a member of .
“They have a very good understanding of one another and they are all well-drilled in what’s expected of them. Jack’s comeback has given us an awful lift and I hope he stays injury-free.
“They have got stronger – Dessie Ward is back in now and there is a lot of confidence within the team. But still we’re always wary when it comes to the Ulster Championship – confidence is one thing but producing it on the day is what it’s all about.”
Monaghan have a dependable point-scoring goalkeeper in Rory Beggan and a solid, well-organised defence that has been boosted by the return to fitness of the experienced Clontibret wing-back Dessie Mone. However, the loss of midfielder Darren Hughes (no relation) is a blow to the side.
“We haven’t the greatest depth of talent but we have 25 fellas who are committed,” says Hughes.
“It will be very hard for somebody to step into Darren’s shoes but we have players who can do it.”
Of course Fermanagh have their own problems. Pete McGrath’s side has been undermined by injuries and the loss of leading players, but they certainly won’t roll over at Clones.
“We had some good run-ins with Fermanagh in my day and the opening 40 minutes was always tough,” says Hughes.
“It was a 60-minute game then and Fermanagh played very clever, possession football but we had a very good Monaghan team back then like we have now.
“People are overlooking Fermanagh because they have lost some players off their panel but they’ll have 25 men out there and they have an opportunity to cause an upset. I do expect Monaghan to beat Fermanagh and beat them comfortably.
“The stumbling block for Monaghan, if they get over Fermanagh, will be the Cavan game because we saw what Cavan did in the League – they drew with us and they were a bit unlucky to be relegated.
“When Cavan and Monaghan meet all form goes out the window – it’s a derby and it’ll be very heavy competition. We’re in a strong position and I’d expect us to get to the final maybe against Donegal – I think they have the edge over Tyrone.
“They (Donegal) have all the U21s in and the fact that they didn’t win it means that they’ve more time to bond as a unit and it’ll keep the players’ feet on the ground.”