I’ve rediscovered my love for Gaelic football: Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes

Carrickcruppen netminder turned down Irish League chance

Goalkeeper Blaine Hughes is aiming to return to the Armagh senior set-up. Picture by Seamus Loughran.
Goalkeeper Blaine Hughes is is back with Armagh Picture by Seamus Loughran.

BLAINE Hughes has rediscovered his love for Gaelic football after making a celebrated return to his native county at the start of this season.

The Carrickcruppen goalkeeper decided to step away from the panel at the end of the 2022 season to concentrate on a new business – H&H Performance - he co-runs with county team-mate Jemar Hall.

But not long into his year’s sabbatical, he was wishing he was back playing with Armagh again.

Hughes has performed brilliantly in the number one spot ever since Ethan Rafferty suffered a broken ankle playing for his club last July – and was one of the key reasons why Armagh clinched promotion back to Division One with a game to spare.

“It’s great to be back,” said Hughes, who has clocked up over 70 appearances for Armagh since making the breakthrough in 2017.

“I have that wee bit of bite having come back. I was eager to get back and things are going well, thank God.

“I was out for a full year. I wanted to get the business going but halfway through the year I was probably regretting it and wishing I was back in with the boys.

“But once the year was over, I made contact with Kieran straight away and to see if I could get back on the panel.

“He said to come back in and if I pushed on, I’d get back my chance in the team and I did okay in that trial period.”

During his time away, Hughes dabbled in soccer. A former U18 player with Newry City, Hughes was training with Irish Premiership club Loughgall and for a time was swayed by the prospect of playing at the highest level of soccer in the north.

“I was playing club football and was down at Loughgall for a few weeks.

“I was training with them. I basically had to make a decision if I was going to pursue it but once I made that decision Armagh was going to be number one.”

Hughes is likely to be in goal for Sunday’s Allianz NFL Division Two final against Donegal at Croke Park (1.45pm) while Rafferty gets closer to full fitness.

But in McGeeney’s regime possession of the jersey is nine-tenths of the law and Hughes currently has possession of the number one spot.

Asked for an update on Rafferty’s fitness after Armagh defeated Cavan, McGeeney said: “Ethan’s back running and kicking, and hopefully we’ll see him but he’s a job on his hands as Blaine [Hughes] has had a great season so far.”

Hughes confessed he felt nervous when he returned to the Armagh panel in pre-season but has enjoyed the pressure-cooker of being in goal for his county and heaped praise on goalkeeping coach Ciaran McKinney.

“I think you thrive in it because you’re more involved in the game the way goalkeeping has gone. Years ago, it was just a matter of hitting kick-outs but there is so much a goalkeeper is involved in nowadays and it keeps you on your toes.

“Ciaran McKinney is our goalkeeping coach and has been brilliant throughout. When I started with the county in 2017, he was there. Since then, we’ve taken our goalkeeping a lot more serious and we’re involved in everything, so there are massive improvements since I started.”