Hugh McFadden proving to be a leader for Donegal
Leaders are winners!
It is an immutable law of nature and especially in the sometimes elemental world of the GAA.
They are often, but not necessarily, the biggest, strongest or the most skilful player on the field.
But they all have particular qualities that sets them as a breed apart.
A leader is often the man/woman who just says the right thing at the right time in a tense dressing room, he/she could make that catch under the cross bar when you are two points up heading into injury time.
Or a leader can often be the one who wins that dirty ball or puts up their hand up to take the last gasp free that can make the difference between elation and despair.
So are they born, or can they be made?
Inspirational managers can often bring out latent leadership qualities in their men/women.
But the best leaders are born with that innate self- belief/ desire and capacity that sets them apart.
For many it can’t be bottled or bought, it’s a gift from the gods or from sheer DNA
And in Donegal current captain Hugh McFadden embodies all those attributes.
He is very much the leader on the pitch in the absence of Michael Murphy, who does not come back until after Donegal have played Clare Meath and Tipperary in the opening rounds of the NFL.
They will then face Rory Gallagher’s Fermanagh, Cork, Kildare and Armagh in a Division they are expected to come out of.
It is hard to believe that the Herculean Hugh only turns 25 at the end of this month.
And this is his sixth year in the Tir Conaill jersey.
But it is his second year as the county’s on-field leader, a measure of the esteem in which he is held.
And he could just as easily have a been a soccer star, following in the footsteps of his father, also Hugh and Hugh Junior has already played for Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers in his earlier youth.
And for the past few years, he was been wheeled out by Rory Gallagher and latterly Declan Bonner to play verbal volleyball with the press who are always looking for an angle.
Despite his relative youth he has already mastered the pretty difficult art of saying plenty but revealing nothing.
Hugh is also a very vocal presence on the field and he could be heard very clearly all through the Dr McKenna Cup, shouting, cajoling and encouraging a pretty young side who have thrown up some real prospects of challenging for NFL places.
Donegal had a very successful 2018, garlanded as it was by success in the Dr McKenna Cup and a first Ulster title since 2014.
The only two blips were their narrow relegation to Division Two and a final quarter fade out to eventual All-Ireland winners Tyrone in the Super 8’s in Ballybofey in August.
But McFadden never dwells on past sorrow, it is always the next ball for the versatile midfielder who can also double as full -forward.
And he is even more vital to Donegal in Murphy, Paddy McGrath, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Frank McGlynn, Leo McLoone, Paddy McBrearty and Kieran Gillespie’s absence (the latter two will not be available until late spring early summer and are huge losses).
Add in Neil McGee, Odhran McFadden/Ferry, Odhran MacNiallais, Daire O’Baoill, Cian Mulligan and Micheal Carroll, who are also as lathair from Gaoth, and McFadden’s role is even more crucial.
And while he may be captain, but McFadden is very aware of the competition for places in and around midfield where he usually operates.
Martin McFadden, Jason McGee and Odhran MacNiallais are all capable of playing in midfield, apart from Michael Murphy while Michael Langan has the height to also be a contender for one of these slots.
So you have six potential candidates for two slots and that aptly illustrates the sheer competition for places and captaincy is no automatic guarantee of tenure.
“This is my sixth year and I suppose I am one of the more experienced players, but there are quite a lot of other players who will be challenging for places in the NFL.
“The games in the Dr McKenna Cup were for winning, but they were also for learning.
“It was all to see how boys are going and to see what style of play we need to adapt for the NFL.
“Everyone on the panel has been putting in performances which they hope will mean they are in the squad for the NFL.
“And when you think of the calibre of players to come back in, you need to perform well to just try and keep your name in the squad, never mind on the team.”
Donegal face Clare (away), Meath (home) and Tipperary away in their opening games, fixtures they would be expected to win, given their pedigree.
“Some people might say the first three games are winnable, but we have two very long trips, to Clare and Tipperary.
“We played Meath in recent years in the championship and they gave us quite a good test so you never get anything easy from them no matter where the venue is.
“We have not played Clare at all so they are a pretty unknown quantity.
“Tipperary are also away and given the pedigree of players they have like Michael Quinlivan, Conor Sweeeny and Conor O’Brien and they play a really good brand of attacking football.
“These long trips could prove to be quite testing for us”.
“There will be nothing easy in this division as we have Fermanagh, Kildare, Armagh and Cork so it is really a very competitive division.
“Kildare had a poor start last year but came good in the summer as they beat Mayo in Newrbidge and will be really keen to do well.
“They will be looking to get a quick return to Division One.
“Fermanagh will be an interesting tie also as we will be meeting them in the championship as well which adds an extra dimension.
“And Armagh seem to have rejuvenated themselves and have got some quality forwards back so they will be hard to beat also.”
And Cork are the opponents away on St Patrick’s, something McFadden is wary of.
“They have produced a Ten Year Rebel Plan and with the quality of players they have, they too will be difficult to beat.”
But, for now Hugh McFadden is revelling in the role of towering leader following in the great footsteps of Michael Murphy
And leaders are…….winners!
HOW THEY WILL DO?
Donegal are expected to make a swift return to Division One, anything less would be concerning.
But it is the ideal platform for the raft of young stars looking to cement regular places.
Michael Murphy is not expected to join the squad until after the first three rounds of the NFL which includes two long away trips to Clare and Tipperary as well as a home joust with Meath.
Donegal would be expecting to win these three games, but Tipperary could prove to be the toughest test.
And they might need Murphy, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Paddy McGrath, Frank McGlynn and Leo McLoone for three very tough matches in late February and early March.
Their great strength is the sheer number of talented and towering young stars who will be improving with every match.
And, should Gaoth Dobhair falter against Corofin, they will have Neil McGee, Odhran MacNiallais, Odhran McFadden/Ferry, Cian Mulligan, Daire O’Baoill and Micheal Carroll back in the frame.
And significantly All-Ireland 2012 winner Martin McElhinney said this was the strongest Donegal side he had ever been on.
Their weakness remains a shaky backline that was repeatedly exposed by QUB, Down and Cavan in the Dr McKenna Cup.
Neil McGee’s return would give more solidity but it had been an area of concern for quite some time.
Kildare, Armagh and Cork could certainly test this perceived weakness.
Manager Declan Bonner has freshened up his backroom team as ex Mayo manager Stephen Rochford is in a coaching role.
He joins the youthful but highly regarded Aaron Kyles (26) from Naomh Ultan and Karl Lacey is also there as Anthony McGrath and John McElholm have left the management.
Bonner’s boys are strong on and off the field and it will be a major surprise if they do not make a swift return to the top flight.
Young Ones to Watch:
St Eunan’s U20 star Niall O’Donnell is one of the most exciting prospects to emerge on the Tir Conaill front in many years.
He has bulked up considerably in the past 12 months.
More crucially he has superb balance, vision, two great feet and the confidence to go for scores from any angle.
Niall is also a superb hurler and a big loss to the small ball game in a football mad county.
19-year-old Peadar Mogan from St Naul’s is also one to watch.
The former county minor captain is a real leader, cam play anywhere and can finish with aplomb.
He is built in the same mould as the great Martin McHugh and has a pretty good left foot as well.
Another talented prospect who is about three years older is Michael Langan (22) who has really stamped his mark on this year’s Dr McKenna Cup.
Langan is around 6.2, can win possession but is deadly accurate from play and frees.
The St Michael’s star is growing in confidence with every match after suffering a severe injury last year.
He will be very important to Donegal from a free taking perspective in the first three games of the NFL with Michael Murphy absent.