We didn’t let Armagh run over us physically: McHugh

Donegal's Ryan McHugh with Armagh's Andrew Murnin and Rory Grugan. Picture: John Merry
Donegal's Ryan McHugh with Armagh's Andrew Murnin and Rory Grugan. Picture: John Merry (J_Merry)

MAKING sure that Armagh “didn’t run over” Donegal physically was perhaps the most pleasing side of the visitors’ performance, says Ryan McHugh.

The sides brought a championship crowd and intensity to the Box-It Athletic Grounds but the game was shy of Division One quality, perhaps owed to being jolted out of the relative comfort they’ve both enjoyed so far in the second tier.

There has been some conversation in Donegal around their need to close a conditioning gap to the top teams after falling behind in the past couple of seasons, but McHugh feels they’re in a good place in that regard and that they’d set out to match Armagh physically from the start.

“For us to match Armagh physically and for fitness, who have been under Kieran McGeeney for whatever six or seven years now and have been on a serious journey, we’d be pleased with that.

“We talked about it. All Armagh teams, Kieran McGeeney teams, are big strong teams, physically fit, and we didn’t want to let them run over us.

“We knew coming down here it would be tough to match that. Armagh don’t lose many games in the Athletic Grounds. They didn’t lose today either but for us not to lose was good as well. We didn’t want to let them run over us and I think we matched them today, which is a pleasing part.

“I feel we’re not a million miles away [physically]. I think we’ve shown in all our matches we’ve played.

“You can only play who’s put in front of you and every match so far, we’ve stood up and been counted in terms of the physical battles and mental battles.

“When it came to the nip and tuck in Breffni Park, we showed grit and determination to see it out. Other years gone by, we could have lost that match and probably would have lost that match.

“Same in Breffni Park, years gone by we probably would have lost that day or at least not got a win. That’s pleasing.”

In a youthful Donegal squad, McHugh almost qualifies for veteran status.

He will have turned 30 the week before they face Derry in this summer’s championship and joked that he’s “seen it all now”.

McHugh and clubmate Patrick McBrearty are the survivors from Jim McGuinness’ first term in charge that ended a decade ago.

What, if anything, has changed?

“In terms of his coaching and philosophy, his trainings haven’t changed that much. It’s all about getting on the pitch and whatever length of time we’re on the pitch, train as hard as we can and get into the bodies.

“We’ve a lot done but we’ve a lot more to do. We’ve huge matches coming up now against Louth, Kildare and Meath. If we’re lucky enough to get to a league final, then we’ve the championship down the road.

“It’s a different championship now from when Jim was last involved. You maybe had three or four weeks between matches in 2012 and 2014, you had a lot of time.

“You probably had time to build fitness, to get somebody back from an injury, but it’s completely different now. Going back to the whole squad aspect, we’re gonna need a whole 30, 32 players. We’ll see how we get on, we’re gonna give it everything we have.”

McGuinness’ experience in soccer looks to have informed the tactical principles with which he has returned, even if the high pressing we’d seen in the early rounds of the league was largely absent in Armagh.

“I’m not gonna lie, I watch soccer and follow it but I don’t know a lot about the tactical side of things,” said McHugh.

“Football evolves all the time. I watched different matches during the week, I watched an Ulster final from the early 2000s, Armagh and Tyrone, and you wouldn’t recognise the sport. You’d think it was a different sport.

“Football evolves all the time. Armagh pressed us as high today as we pressed them. “I think most teams in Ireland, watching the games, are pressing. I think it’s just the next evolution of football. I can’t comment from a spectator’s point of view but I think it’s good for football.

“There’s a lot of turnovers and a lot more excitement, which is what we want back in the game.”