Glory days: Nudie Hughes recalls Monaghan's victory over Tyrone in the 1988 Ulster final
TWENTY-seven cagey minutes had gone and a nervy 1988 Ulster final was deadlocked at three points apiece when Eamonn McEneaney pumped a Hail Mary towards the Tyrone posts.
Eugene ‘Nudie’ Hughes – Monaghan’s talismanic, jack-in-the-box corner-forward - gave chase more in hope than expectation.
The ball dropped out of the Clones sky and into Aidan Skelton’s normally reliable hands but somehow it bobbled out and Nudie was on to it in a flash. He scooped up the loose ball, leapfrogged a swing of Skelton’s right leg and then did what he usually did – he stuck it in the back of the net.
Skelton redeemed himself with a superb save in the second half but Monaghan went on to win the Anglo-Celt Cup by 1-10 to 11 points.
“The memories of that game are very good,” says Nudie, scorer of a game-winning 1-3, with a chuckle.
“We didn’t play against Tyrone much at that time. They were physical but sure we were equally as physical! The bounce of the ball went for me that day - you’re there to do a job as a forward and I was very fortunate that the four shots that I had all went where I meant them to go.
“It was a very solid performance from the team and it was my last Ulster Championship medal so I was delighted with it. When I meet the Tyrone boys now we have great craic about that day – lucky enough Peter Canavan wasn’t around or we wouldn’t have had the same joy!
“I meet Eugene McKenna, Frank McGuigan, Kevin McCabe, Danny Ball, John Lynch… I meet the boys regularly and keep in contact with them. There was never a game against them when it wasn’t hot and heavy – it was like Strictly Come Dancing; you had to be quick on your feet and learn the cha-cha-cha very quick.”
THIRTY-three years on and Hughes is in the midst of a much more serious battle and it’s another he is determined to win. In December 2018, the Castleblayney native was diagnosed with liver and colon cancer and he has been undergoing intensive treatment since.
“I’m here talking now and I’m very happy,” he says.
“I’m in good form and I think this is like a game of football: I’ve been playing against the wind for the best part of two and-a-half years now, so I’m hoping that the wind might change around now and stay at my back for a while.
“But I am in good form, I’m positive about it and I take nothing for granted. I am in treatment every week and I’ve had a lot of sessions over the past five months, an awful lot. It’s ongoing and I’ll know next month (how he is responding to treatment) so please God all goes well.”
And so say all of us.
Football pales into insignificance next to what Hughes is facing and against the loss the family of Brendan Og Duffy recently experienced. Monaghan U20 captain Brendan Og was on the way home from his county’s Ulster semi-final win when his life was cut cruelly short in a tragic accident.
“I had seen Brendan playing for Monaghan U17s,” says Nudie.
“It’s such a tragic loss and Tyrone people would know all about that. I remember when young Paul McGirr died during the game in Omagh (in 1997). It brings back memories, not nice ones, of how short life can be.
“What a tragedy that Brendan’s life was cut short at 19 years of age after leading his county to the Ulster final and it hasn’t just hit Monaghan people, it has affected GAA people in general.
“I am in Dublin regularly at different things and the first thing I heard after it happened was: ‘Wasn’t it an awful tragedy!’ The out-pouring of grief has been amazing and it must be so horrendous for any parent to have to bury their child. I feel so sorry for his parents.”
THE emotional scenes after Monaghan's semi-final win over Armagh will live long in the memory of everyone who witnessed them. Somehow the Farney players and management were able to focus on taking on the Orchardmen and, after a dramatic win in a thrilling contest, now look ahead to their fourth Ulster final meeting with Tyrone.
The Red Hands won out in the last two (2010 and 2007) deciders and the only other previous meeting between these rivals was that 1988 clash when Monaghan commemorated the centenary of their first Ulster title – the first-ever northern Championship in 1888.
Ray McCarron contributed two points back in ’88 and his son Jack was instrumental in getting Monaghan to Saturday’s Croke Park final. McCarron scored one goal and had a hand in two more of the Farneymen’s first half quartet against Armagh.
The Orchardmen fought back impressively to take the lead but some ice-cool free-taking from Conor McManus saw Monaghan win a thriller in Newry.
“It was an extraordinary game,” says Nudie.
“Armagh are definitely improving and it was like a hurling match when you look at the scoreline. It was phenomenal scoring – four goals in the first half for Monaghan and you’d think a team would walk away with it but it showed Armagh’s footballing ability to get back into it.
“As a forward I just admired the finishing. McManus was excellent – he won the two free-kicks at the end and executed them brilliantly. He’s been one of the best forwards in the game over the last decade and we needed a player like that to carry us through.
“In terms of the best Monaghan have produced, he is up there with the greats – no question about it and I was delighted to see Jack McCarron come back after all the injury problems he has had.
“In fairness, and it was the same in my time, it was a team effort. They had the game won, then they lost it and they had to fight back to win it again! Exceptional players stand up at times like that and the other thing was, the younger players stood up for us.
“Conor McCarthy has been hot and cold this year but he is still effective. Young Stephen O’Hanlon, Niall Kearns coming back… It was an exciting semi-final and I think we have the makings of a great final and the fact that it will be at Croke Park will give an extra edge to it.”
As for opponents Tyrone, Hughes was impressed by the attacking urgency they displayed against Donegal in their semi-final win at Brewster Park. There was a lot less of the slow build-up and a running game from the back and a lot more focus on kicking the ball and utilising a thriving forward unit.
“They got game-time for Conor McKenna and Cathal McShane so they’re improving and it looks like the beating they got off Kerry in the League shook them up,” says Hughes.
“They have responded to it in a positive way.
“They’ve got past Fermanagh and Armagh and I think it is a 50-50 game but Tyrone should not hold any fear for Monaghan because the confidence is high within the camp.”