Thursday 27 October 2016

McFadden bidding to make up for lost time after code switch

Chris McNulty

Published 26/06/2015 | 02:30

Hugh McFadden
Hugh McFadden

Hugh McFadden wanted to follow in Seamus Coleman's footsteps.

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His ambition altered and now he aims to walk a path previously paved by men like Manus Boyle, John Cunningham and Barry McGowan, heroes all in Killybegs.

McFadden won League of Ireland U-19 titles with Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers, making first-team appearances at both clubs.

McFadden saw Sligo as a real opportunity. He saw Coleman move from there to Everton, but his own dream never came true.

A year after he signed for the Bit O'Red, then manager Ian Baraclough delivered the news that McFadden was no longer a part of his plans at the Showgrounds.

He sat in the stand on the night the Champions League anthem rang out as  Rovers played Molde, but two months later he was answering a call from Jim McGuinness. It changed his life.

McFadden had a lot of catching up to do, having parked his Gaelic football career for three years.

Two weeks ago, he made his Ulster SFC debut as a sub during Donegal's win over Armagh at the Athletic Grounds. After promising appearances against Laois and Galway in the opening two League games in 2014, McFadden was kept in cold storage by McGuinness. 

He took it all in, though, and came back ready to make an impact this year.

"I was looking maybe for a move to Finn Harps or Athlone, but simultaneously as I was leaving Sligo, the Donegal U-21s were planning their attack for the following year and Killybegs had the run to the county final that year," he says.

"Maxi (Curran) and Rory (Gallagher, who was alongside Curran for the 2014 U-21 campaign) spent a lot of time last year working on my game. They were very proactive.

"Finding a position was a big problem, but the U-21 experience really helped me with those different jobs on the pitch.

"The decision making skills and understanding of what to do in a game just weren't at the level they should have been at for me, and I was bringing a lot of soccer habits into the game too."

McGuinness put him on a strength and conditioning programme in the winter of 2013. He jumped at the chance, but knew he had lost time to make up for. The road ahead wasn't going to be easy, but he made a vow to himself that he wouldn't go when the going got tough. 

"I didn't get on in the Championship last year, but a lot of that was probably down to it being my first year on the panel," he says.

"I had a lot to learn because I was coming in a very raw player without a definite role within a team.

"I was disappointed not to get in, but then you remind yourself that you're trying to break into one of the best teams in the country.

"At this level, you can't spend too much time being in awe of the surroundings or being in awe of the people around you. You'll be left behind if that happens. You can pinch yourself when you get home or whatever, but not when you're in the moment."

Like most youngsters in the fishing port, McFadden played with both the Killybegs GAA club and St Catherine's FC. 

He says: "When I was younger I looked at soccer as being higher than Gaelic so that's stood to me. I'd have been looking at playing League of Ireland as being a massive thing or playing for the county soccer team as being a bigger thing than playing county Gaelic. 

"Now, I can see how massive it is and getting the game time against Armagh was huge for me - I just want to push on now and keep improving. It's something I wouldn't have expected to happen a few years ago, but I'm delighted that I've got the first Championship appearance under my belt.

"I'm happy with where I am and I'll be doing the best I can to help the Donegal squad from now on."

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