'Could you do me a favour and get my finger off the top of the fence?' - Kevin McHugh recalls horror injury
Striker determined to remain positive despite losing finger in accident
Published 13/10/2016 | 02:30
What started at a bar counter in Killybegs in 1998 ended upon a steel gate in Letterkenny last Wednesday evening.
Kevin McHugh has scored 186 goals in 438 appearances for Finn Harps, but there'll be no more: No farewell appearance in the number 10 shirt; No final goal for the Harps faithful to salute.
"My season is completely over," he says now, his left hand heavily bandaged from last week's freak accident in which he severed a finger.
"I was planning on hanging up the boots anyway. It's not the way I planned to say goodbye, but that's the way it is. The decision is made for me now."
The 36-year-old was setting up a coaching session with the Donegal Soccer Academy when, while attempting to jump over a gate to obtain a set of goalposts, his wedding ring got caught in the fence.
He says: "We have to jump these gates to get the goalposts, depending on the crowd that turns up. I do it every week and have done it since we started the academy last year.
"When my two feet landed on the ground, it felt like the ring was tugged on or caught on something. Once I looked down at my hands there was no finger there and I was like: 'Christ!' It happened so quickly. I couldn't have taken the finger off quicker with a hatchet."
McHugh managed to drive himself the short distance to Letterkenny University Hospital - and even tweeted a gruesome picture. He says: "I looked at the two boys, the other coaches Dessie McGlinchey and BJ Banda, through the fence and they were in complete shock. I had to hop back over the fence, rush to the car about 400 metres away and head to the hospital. I didn't want to let the kids see me like that or pass out in front of them. People were probably wondering what I was at tweeting, but that kept me sane. When the nurses were pumping morphine into me, they actually told me to keep busy on my phone to keep my mind off it."
As he was on his way, he put a call back to the Aura Leisure Centre, where the academy was in full swing, to coach Mel O'Donnell.
McHugh says: "I realised that I didn't have the finger with me and I knew I'd need it for the hospital. Mel will probably never get a phone call like that again.
"I rang him - he hadn't seen how bad it was - and said: 'Could you do me a favour and go back and get my finger off the top of the fence? I need you to settle yourself and get it'. He followed me up to the hospital with it. The pain was pretty bad. I could feel my heart pumping through my chest, but I had to make that call."
Although the finger was put in ice overnight, medics in Galway couldn't save it.
"They tried to recover a bit at the bottom, but the finger is gone. The ring just made a complete mess of it. The bone you see in the picture isn't the finger. That came up from the knuckle.
"There was just nothing that could be done. They tried their best, but it just wasn't possible. It's a psychological hurdle I have to get over in the next while.
"I have to be positive. I have two kids and have other things to worry about. It won't stop me from doing what I want to do in life.
"Accidents happen to people. I can still talk, walk and see so I'm not as unfortunate as a lot of people out there."
McHugh, from the border village of Killea, was spotted by Charlie McGeever - then Harps manager - when he played for Fanad United against Killybegs in a seven-a-side tournament one night in 1998.
"A few pints later and Charlie moved in and invited me to train. I think I might even have signed that night - that's how deals were done back then," McHugh says.
In 2002, he spent two separate weeks on trial at Aston Villa - while Derby, Wycombe and Carlisle had also expressed an interest.
He says: "I went back the second week to Villa and played well against Wolves in a friendly.
"Graham Taylor said that I wasn't the type of striker he was after and then he signed Peter Crouch a while later - someone definitely got the stats on me wrong!"
McHugh - who played for Derry City and Linfield during a spell away - has been a peripheral figure this year but, having followed the likes of Con McLaughlin and Brendan Bradley as an iconic number 10 for Harps, mightn't just depart the club completely.
Ciaran Coll, who has worn the captain's armband in McHugh's absence, says: "I just hope he stays around the club on the staff. Finn Harps can't lose someone like Kevin McHugh."