Monaghan's Kieran Hughes ready to come back better than ever after winter break
KIERAN Hughes got his first taste of the action towards the end of Monaghan’s win over Tyrone last weekend, and is determined to come back better than ever after missing the early part of the campaign.
The Scotstown midfielder suffered ruptured ligaments and fractured a bone in his hand during the county semi-final clash with Ballybay.
And, although he played in the Monaghan final and his club’s Ulster championship defeat to Kilcar, rest and recuperation was required.
Yet while the hand was painful, it didn’t hurt anywhere near as badly as that defeat to the Donegal champions, which came only a couple of months after Monaghan’s one-sided Championship exit to Dublin.
“At that stage I was happy enough to see the back of football,” he admits.
“You win most of your games through the year and then when it comes to the big knockout game and you lose, you just feel like the world has opened up underneath you. It’s a real knockback.
“I lost two massive games last year, to Dublin and Kilcar, and they haunted me for the remainder of the year. I have to learn how to deal with defeats like that, because you forget about the wins fairly quickly.”
In order to recharge his batteries, both in physical and mental sense, Hughes went on holiday to Thailand in January and missed the whole of the Dr McKenna Cup plus the first two games of the National League, arriving back in Ireland the day Monaghan beat Kildare.
Three weeks of hard training have followed as Hughes played catch-up and, although he admits he is “a while away” from being at the fitness level of his team-mates, the weather-enforced break could help his cause.
And after an extended break from football, he can’t wait to get back at it.
“People thought I was going away travelling for a year but that’s not the case. I could never do that, I’d miss it far too much,” he says.
“I wouldn’t be close to it yet now [full match fitness], you’re watching games thinking ‘I’d love to be able to do something there’ but you have to take a step back and realise you’re a while away from being up to that level.
“But in terms of hunger and everything else though, I couldn’t be in a better place. I’m very thankful to be about Monaghan football now the way things are going, and I’m just trying to get the lungs opened up in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m enjoying going to training, loving the competition there is to try and get back in there.”
And the competition has been cranked up a notch. Niall Kearns has impressed alongside Hughes’s brother Darren in midfield – but the younger sibling welcomes having a battle on his hands to earn a start 15 spot.
He continued: “I’m all for having a conveyor belt of boys coming through because if you don’t have that, you’re p***ing into the wind.
“Boys have got their chance and taken it with both hands, and I’m delighted to see it because there were years you’d be playing for Monaghan, going to training with a fair idea you’d be playing at the weekend.
“That’s not the case now at all. Some people like that wee comfort zone but I turned 28 last week, if I have nothing to push towards to try and get into the starting 15, there’s no point in me being there at all.”