Hugh McFadden: Crushing defeats the motivator for Donegal
It hurts to lose-at any level.
And Donegal’s affable and articulate Hugh McFadden does not shy away from re-living those dark days when he and Tir Conaill supped sorrow from the rusty spoon of defeat in Ulster senior and Under 21 finals in recent years.
For, while Donegal are the hottest of favourites to prevail, McFadden tempers that optimism in the cold light of experience as he stands tall and imposing at the Donegal press night.
And he knows the gut-wrenching heartache that can come for cruel, narrow defeat.
“The word all week is that we are hot favourites going in against Cavan but there is a group of us in there that lost to Cavan at U21 level in the Ulster final of 2014 and 2015, a senior final 2015 and a senior final in 2016,'' declared McFadden.
And if you throw Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh on top of that, you have an U21 final in 2013 and a senior final in 2013.
“Add that up, and that could be anything from four to six Ulster finals that we have lost, so I don’t think that being favourites will breed any complacency.
“Cavan scored a goal in injury time in Armagh to beat us in an Ulster U21 final and the pain of that defeat still lingers and then we lost an Ulster senior final by a point to Monaghan in 2015 and Tyrone kicked two of the best points I have ever seen in 2016 to beat us in injury time.
“So the accumulation of those defeats will never leave us and that is a motivating factor along with the chance of an Ulster title on Sunday.”
McFadden and Donegal are coming in on the back of a seismic win over Tyrone, their first victory over a top-rated team in many moons: “From the public perception we did not topple the top teams in the country over the past 18-24 months.
“I suppose when you do get that victory it is a bit of a catalyst to improve, but the belief was in the group.
“We would be very disappointed with the way we lost to Tyrone in the Super 8’s in Ballybofey last year and that was a motivating factor along with the chance to get into an Ulster final.
“Hopefully now that win can catapult us to bigger things.”
But despite the excellent win, some nagging doubts remain about the perceived porous nature of the centre of the Donegal defence, an area that Tyrone opened on a few occasions.
“Yes there were some tricky days throughout the League and it was not looking good after the Fermanagh game,'' said McFadden
“We got promoted and there was some very good football played at the end of the NFL.
“It was good to get over Tyrone and a winning performance on Sunday would be great.”
So where are Cavan strongest?
“They are very strong around the middle, and they have a number of quality players that have been around for quite some time.'' he stresses.
“Dara McVeety, Martin Reilly Gearoid McKiernan, Conor Moynagh and Padraig Faulkner is a very steady full-back.
“And you have a goalkeeper like Raymond Galligan who can come up the field and kick frees from 40-45 metres which really adds to your confidence.
‘They seem to be very confident and people forget that they were in Division One this year and they competed extremely well.
“They beat a seasoned Monaghan team and a good Armagh team and I rate this Cavan team very highly.
“There are lot of talented players in their dressing rooms and it will take a big effort to put the shackles on them.”
But, like Donegal, McFadden is also coming off the back of a superb individual display where he covered very well: “You are happy when your own personal performance adds to victory and I suppose things worked out well for the team in the first half and also for me.
“It is pleasing and if you have a great personal performance and your team loses it is not so great, but it is much easier when the team win and you do well as well.”
But the prize is great again on Sunday with the lure of back-to-back titles also a great motivator.
“Yeah looking on as a fan in 2011 and 2012 you were just kind of bamboozled by the achievements of these guys for Donegal, the inspiration they were on GAA in the county, and for us to have a chance to repeat something like that is very exciting,'' said McFadden.
“I suppose those teams would have changed a lot of the perceptions of young people towards Gaelic football.
“There is no point in hiding it as we all jumped on this bubble of excitement and it captured the imaginations of young people and the aura around the team made you want to be involved in it.
“For a period there, they just seemed indestructible and the made you proud and if we could give the same sense of pride back then it would be a very pleasing thing to be part of.
“And, as a team, to win back to back Ulster titles it just gives you that more respect.
“We just have to look at it that we have to beat Cavan to win an Ulster championship, but the boys are down in Breffni Park thinking the exact same thing.
“You can’t let that linger in your head too much.”
But McFadden and fellow townie Eoghan Ban Gallagher came in for high praise from an even more famous townie called Seamie Coleman who made the trip to Breffni Park for that big victory for his native county.
“Yeah to take time out of a very busy schedule and to recognise our own wee achievement compared to his achievements was a nice touch,'' he said.
'' But you tend to forget that this is a man from Killybegs who has captained his country and for him to give us a compliment is quite pleasing but he is still one of the boys from Killybegs and that is the most pleasing thing.”
And this big boy from Killybegs, called Hugh McFadden continues to be a great soldier at the heart of Tir Conaill.