No fear factor for Monaghan young guns, says Hughes
Prior to last year's Ulster final, the then Farney manager Seamus McEnaney -- one of the men at the centre of the latest storm in Meath -- declared that he would "bring Pope Benedict in if it would help Monaghan be successful".
It was a small insight into the levels McEnaney is willing to go to when it comes to making hard choices that are hugely unpopular and against the grain.
McEnaney made his remarks in the context of his earlier decision to parachute an outfield player into goals for Monaghan's Ulster championship opener against Armagh, just 24 hours before throw-in.
Pope Benedict he isn't but, even so, the decision to overlook a replacement goalkeeper when the first-choice was ruled out with injury, in preference for a player who had no experience of the position for five years, represented an extraordinary gamble -- one that paid off in the short term, with the composure Darren Hughes subsequently showed.
Hughes looks back on the events of exactly 12 months ago this weekend now and admits that, with so little time involved, the scale of the challenge never really dawned on him.
"It never really sunk into the players. It never really affected the players because we got to Casement Park half an hour before the game, warmed up, got out on the pitch, got the game over and the result in the bag," he reflected.
"And then it was talked about. I had only a day to dwell on it -- players didn't really get a chance to dwell on it. They were focused on their own games. It was in the coming days after that when all the hype came."
Hughes had only found out 24 hours earlier when the regular goalkeeper, Shane Duffy, failed a fitness test. Such was the covert nature of the operation that only two other players directly affected by the sequence of events were informed.
"Seamus rang me on the Saturday and confirmed that Shane failed a fitness test," Hughes recalled.
"They felt it was the right decision for the team. I hadn't played in goals since I was minor goalkeeper in '05.
"He knew I'd be confident enough, I'd have a good kick-out so he had no qualms about putting me in nets. He knew I'd be messing about at training. I'd be kicking '45s' and frees from the ground. He knew there would be no problem in that area."
Ultimately, though, Hughes hankered for a quick return to an outfield post.
"I went to Seamus a week after the Armagh game and said to him that I wanted to play outfield against Fermanagh (in the Ulster semi-final).
"He said no, that barring injuries I was going to be in goals. The team was going well and I couldn't argue with it. Once you are winning you can't disrupt a winning team.
"I get bored of it basically. I wanted to get out the field. You could end up costing a goal. Whatever had to be done for the team -- it's all about winning, at the end of the day."
His two-game stint in goal ensured that Hughes, at 24, has now played in every line of the field, including a short spell at full-forward in a league match against Kerry in Killarney in 2010.
"I actually played in every line of the field that day," he recalled.
With the departure of so many mainstays of the team that reached two Ulster finals in four years -- the Freeman brothers, JP Mone, Gary McQuaid and Rory Woods -- Hughes acknowledges that the future is uncertain for them ahead of Sunday's Ulster quarter-final with Tyrone.
"We know with the inexperience we have in our camp it could be a year or two before we see the best of us again. In saying that, we're going in to win every game.
"There is a strong base of players there, a lot of players coming through that have had success at underage level, at vocational school level. There's a no fear factor, they've won things before so maybe they can bring something to older players."