Football

Stalwart Darren Hughes questioned Farney future for first time before return

Darren Hughes is heading into a 17th National League campaign with Monaghan, with Armagh up first for the Farneymen tomorrow. Picture by Philip Walsh
Darren Hughes is heading into a 17th National League campaign with Monaghan, with Armagh up first for the Farneymen tomorrow. Picture by Philip Walsh Darren Hughes is heading into a 17th National League campaign with Monaghan, with Armagh up first for the Farneymen tomorrow. Picture by Philip Walsh

IT’S a question he has been asked “every year for the last four or five years”, but for the first time Darren Hughes found himself questioning his inter-county future – until Vinny Corey was appointed Monaghan manager.

Midfielder Hughes turns 36 next month and, having made his Championship debut in a 2006 Tommy Murphy Cup defeat to Louth, is about to embark on a 17th National League campaign in county colours.

However, after All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Mayo signalled a disappointing end to their 2022 campaign, followed by a long search for a successor to Seamus McEnaney, Hughes wasn’t sure where his Farney future lay.

But, after a chat with former team-mate and new Monaghan manager Corey – who had been part of McEnaney’s backroom team - the Scotstown stalwart was in no doubt that he wanted to go again.

“After the club finished last year [Scotstown lost to Ballybay in the county final], there was obviously disappointment there… it was probably the first year I had a conversation with myself, but it didn’t last too long once Vinny got the job,” said Hughes, who saw long-serving team-mates Drew Wylie and Colin Walshe depart the inter-county scene earlier this month.

“People have been asking me probably every year for the last four or five years am I going back… it was never a conversation that I had with myself or my wife before, but last year it came up. It would have been mooted and talked about.

“Me and Vinny had a conversation - a new manager coming in has his own ideas - but he was happy enough for me to go back for another year.

“I’ve been lucky enough with injuries, a couple of broken bones here and there but I’ve had a clean enough run at it, nothing that has kept me out for a sustained period of time.

“I know at any stage now any major injury probably will be the end of the line for me. If I spent more time in the gym than in the training field, that’s when I’d be asking questions of myself.

“When Vinny got the job, I knew myself I wasn’t ready to quit – that I could still offer something.”

Corey was already one of the leaders in the changing room when a teenage Hughes was first called into the Monaghan panel and, all these years on, remains a man he holds in high regard.

“There’s only been one year that I’ve been a Monaghan senior footballer that he wasn’t involved as a player or a coach, so obviously you build up that relationship… the relationship’s probably a bit different now, you might keep out of his way a bit more often.

“But Vinny was always the person in the dressing room we would’ve looked up to, he led by example and when he spoke, you listened.

“He was a leader on and off the pitch as a player, and hopefully that will continue.”

And while another League campaign gets under way against Armagh in Castleblayney tomorrow night, the new round-robin All-Ireland Championship structure also helped convince Hughes to hang around.

First up, though, is a ninth straight year in Division One for the Farneymen - and where Armagh’s time as a major All-Ireland player was just coming to an end when his Monaghan career began, Hughes believes tomorrow’s opponents have the tools to build on an impressive 2022.

“Ah yeah, there’s no doubt in the last three or four seasons, playing them on a regular basis, they’ve definitely turned the screw.

“There’s a lot more quality in their squad - scoring forwards, pace and power all over the field, good strong defenders, well fit to man mark, well fit to attack, well fit to score. Ethan Rafferty in goal has brought another dimension that has pushed them on again.

“They’re a more formidable outfit than they were previously. They made the push into Division One and they’ve proved they’re good enough to be there.”