Martin McHugh central to Donegal's 1983 Ulster final win over Cavan

Martin McHugh will be running a tactical eye over this weekend's final, but in 1983 he was the lead scorer in Clones. 
Martin McHugh will be running a tactical eye over this weekend's final, but in 1983 he was the lead scorer in Clones. 

THE last time Cavan and Donegal met in the Ulster Championship final was 36 years ago.

Clones was at capacity as the two teams played out a real war of attrition underneath the blistering sun.

Donegal ran out three point victors, outmuscling Cavan with a scoreline of 1-14 to 1-11.

Ryan McHugh has been a standout performer for Donegal in this year's Championship, but it was his father Martin who was stealing all the headlines in the 1983 showpiece.

Martin McHugh will be casting a tactical eye over this year’s final with the BBC, but back in 1983 he was pulling all the strings for Donegal on the field.

He scored six points for Tir Chonaill, before having to come off with a shoulder injury in the second half.

Donegal are favourites to win this weekend, but then-manager and hotelier Brian McEniff earned a lot of the plaudits in 1983 for taking an unfancied Donegal to the pinnacle of Ulster football.

According to the 1983 match report, “tactically and technically, Donegal were the more correct.”

One of McEniff’s masterstrokes involved playing Martin McHugh further out the field, “on the 40”.

At the time, it was hailed as a “shrewd psychological move” that gave Donegal the edge “before a ball had even been kicked”.

McHugh was a rising star and Donegal’s leading scorer, but McEniff opted to play him on the 40 and placed Pauric Carr in right corner forward with Tommy McDermott reverting back to his usual left corner back position.The Irish News lauded it as “an inspired move” that allowed McHugh to take over the playmaking role that the injured talisman Charlie Mulgrew had carried out so successfully that campaign.

Charlie Mulgrew would later go on to manage Fermanagh’s senior football team from 2004 to 2007.

McHugh also had a major hand in the move that lead to Donegal’s penalty, which Seamus Bonnar converted with precision.

A Martin McHugh flick on put Pauric Carr in the clear and when he was hauled down, Seamus Bonnar lashed the resultant penalty kick to the roof of the Cavan net.

But it wasn’t just up front where Donegal had the edge. Cavan were unable to cope with the pace and movement of Anthony Molloy in midfield.

In the defensive line towering figures like captain Michael Lafferty, flanked by Brendan Dunleavy and Michael Carr, played with enormous confidence and composure.

However, Cavan had some marquee players of their own who battled to the end in St Tiernach’s Park.

Full forward Derek McDonnell “out-thought and out-played” Martin Griffin, so much so that at one point it looked as though he might win the game single handedly for Cavan.

Despite the best efforts of Ray Cullivan (pictured) and Derek McDonnell, Cavan came up short
Despite the best efforts of Ray Cullivan (pictured) and Derek McDonnell, Cavan came up short

McDonnell scored 1-2 for Cavan, but the Irish News wrote: “Eventually his best efforts came to nought due to a lack of lasting support.”

Derek McDonnell and Ray Cullivan offered a glimmer of hope to Cavan in the closing stages, so too did free-taker Martin Lynch with four points in what the Irish News labelled a “worthy contribution”.

But towards the end of the match, Cavan hit three wides in as many minutes. As the paper wryly noted: “This does not win Ulster Championships."

Twice the sides were level in the second half, but points from Martin McHugh and Joyce McMullan edged Donegal clear for a lead they were able to hold to the finish.

As for the man in black, Antrim native John Gough, who was refereeing his first provincial decider, emerged with his reputation greatly enhanced.

The Irish News stated: “He played the advantage rule whenever possible, yet kept a tight rein on the game and the players and spectators alike benefited from his interpretation of the rules.”

Players and spectators alike will be hoping for a similar performance from Cork referee Conor Lane when he takes charge of the whistle in this weekend’s final.

An experienced ref, Lane has two All-Ireland deciders under his belt, having refereed last year’s final All-Ireland final between Dublin and Tyrone. He was also the man in the middle for the 2016 final between Dublin and Mayo.

Donegal scorers: M McHugh (0-6), S Bonnar (1-1), J McMullan (0-4), D Reid (0-2), M Carr (0-1)

Cavan scorers: D McDonnell (1-2), M Lynch (0-4), J Reilly, D Donoghue, M Faulkner, R Cullivan and S King (0-1)

Donegal: N McCole, D Newton, M Griffin, T McDermott, B Dunleavy, M Laffety (capt.), M Carr, P McGettigan, A Molloy, D Reid, M McHugh, J McMullan, P Carr, S Bonnar, K Keaney. Sub: F Rushe for M McHugh.

Cavan: D O’Reilly, E Kiernan, J McAweeney, F Dolan, T Brady, J Dillion, J Reilly (capt.), A King, D Finnegan, D Donohue, M Faulkner, R Cullivan, M Lynch, D McDonnell, P McNamee. Subs: B O’Grady for T Brady; S King for A King.

Referee: J Gough (Antrim)