GAA Football

'It never crossed my mind': Monaghan's Darren Hughes ready to go again amid retirement jibes

Darren Hughes is entering his 15th year as part of the Monaghan panel, but insists he has no plans to walk away. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

HE will be 34 the next time he pulls on a Monaghan jersey, but Darren Hughes insists the idea of walking away from the inter-county scene “never crossed my mind”.

The Scotstown midfielder, who was first brought into the Farney panel by Seamus McEnaney in 2006 before making his debut a year later, is one of Monaghan's elder statesmen following the retirements of Vinny Corey and Dessie Mone last year.

Their most recent campaign finished on a deeply disappointing note after exiting the Ulster Championship at the hands of neighbours and eventual winners Cavan, yet Hughes still aims to be a part of the panel when the National Football League begins at the end of February.

“To be honest, it never crossed my mind,” he said.

“I get it thrown at me maybe by friends and family, tongue in cheek sort of stuff, but I feel I'm in good enough shape. Anybody I've spoken to who has retired, they sort of know when the time has come… it's just not something I've thought about or considered.

“The format of this year probably helped, coming in off the back of a good club Championship so I felt hungry coming in because I missed the 2019 Championship with injury - my last Championship game with Monaghan was the All-Ireland semi against Tyrone the year before.”

McEnaney, who returned to the Monaghan hotseat in 2019, freshened up the panel with some younger talent but Hughes doesn't expect any of the more experienced members to bid farewell just yet.

“Talking to most of the boys on and off, I don't foresee any change.

“We brought in a good crew of young lads last year, they might bring in a few more if they want to freshen it up again.”

The hurt from their last-gasp defeat to Cavan on October 31 took some time to heal for Farney followers, especially considering they had led by seven at half-time.

Knockout Championship had claimed its first victim since 2000, but the whole year and the overall impact made by the Covid-19 pandemic makes it difficult to judge.

After helping An Bhoth to a fifth county title in six years, Hughes and co moved straight into crucial Division One games against Kerry and Meath before the Breffni clash was right around the corner.

“We prepared as well as we thought we could. Obviously with hindsight we'd have done a lot of things differently… just maybe how we trained after the club season. Nothing overly specific, but we were trying to condense a lot of stuff into a short period of time and maybe tried to do too much.

“It was just the way it went but when you're in that bubble and preparing for going back after the club finished up, we were doing everything we felt we needed to be doing to get ready for Championship.”

And once Monaghan were gone, Hughes was too.

“It wasn't that hard because I didn't watch it,” he says when asked about moving on amid the Championship buzz.

“I'd no interest in it, to be honest. We were the first team out, a bit of a sucker punch, and I didn't really get into the Championship spirit after that. I saw bits and pieces of games but never watched any game from start to finish.

“Actually, I'm probably telling a lie – I saw most of the Ulster final and Cavan were well deserving of their victory that day. They'd done their homework, they performed to a man and it probably should have been over long before Conor Madden scored the goal.

“They got the momentum and took the opportunity when it came.”

By the time that game finally came around, it was over a year since the original 2020 Ulster Championship draw had been made on October 9, 2019.

Although the pandemic had a huge say in the scheduling this year and next, Hughes believes the GAA should reconsider making provincial draws so far in advance of the Championship getting under way.

“You'd been talking about Cavan for a year by that stage. I don't know why they have to do it so quick - you end up burning yourselves out talking about it sometimes.

“We've come out the right and wrong end of big first round wins and defeats in the Ulster Championship, you've seven or eight months lead time into it then two weeks into the next game? It doesn't make much sense.

“Sometimes you can overdo it. You talk about the same team and you know that's the number one goal when you go back - you're always maybe slightly sidetracked through the League, even though you mightn't think you are, because the Championship is what you're aiming for.”

Looking ahead to 2021, there has been a significant shake-up in the Monaghan backroom team, with Peter Donnelly returning to his native Tyrone while Jonny Davis comes in as head of athletic performance, alongside Donie Buckley.

Highly regarded coach Buckley played an integral role as the Kingdom reached the 2019 All-Ireland final, only losing out to Dublin after a replay, but his services were dispensed with by manager Peter Keane earlier this year.

And Hughes is hopeful Buckley can bring something new to the Farney County.

“They're exciting additions,” he said.

“I wouldn't know a whole lot about him to be honest but he is obviously well thought of in Mayo and Kerry circles and at the club set-ups he's been a part of, so hopefully he can bring something to the table for us.”

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