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'The only thing I am not doing as normal is rushing out every evening for training'

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Darren Hughes

Darren Hughes

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Darren Hughes

There's a little corner of Monaghan that doesn't quite feel so oppressive during the lockdown.

Monaghan inter-county football midfielder Darren Hughes spends a good portion of his day up in the cab of a tractor tending to his dairy farm in Ballinode, Scotstown, a world away from the changing circumstances that so many others outside farming are battling.

"Getting cows out grazing, keeping them right, spreading slurry - it's all go. Slurry out two weeks ago, fertiliser last week," he says.

The changes in the world caused by Covid-19 don't really affect his work.

"I am self-isolated anyway. The only thing I am not doing that I would be (normally) is rushing and packing my bags for half six every evening to go to training," he explains.

"I sell from the yard here. I have only wee calves to get sold, so I don't go to the mart with them. It's handy enough. It's a couple of the same men every year that buy my calves."

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Darren Hughes in action against Dublin in the 2017 All-Ireland quarter-final match against Dublin in Croke Park. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Darren Hughes in action against Dublin in the 2017 All-Ireland quarter-final match against Dublin in Croke Park. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Darren Hughes in action against Dublin in the 2017 All-Ireland quarter-final match against Dublin in Croke Park. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

That's not to say his business is unaffected. Darren is a milk producer for Lakeland Dairies and there is no hiding place, even in a quiet part of Monaghan, from the world's economy.

"Our biggest fear would be if they stopped collecting milk, and we would have to dump the milk," he says.

"There is only a small percentage of our milk that goes on shelves. Most of it goes to foreign markets in powder form, so there is already a backlog of stuff that hasn't gone into China in the last few months.

"It's a supply and demand market. The supply is there but the demand is not, with the supply in containers waiting to get in."

More locally, the pinch is also being felt.

"Our Lakeland suppliers, they do all the UHT milk for McDonald's and others - the McDonald's are all closed down and that's another market gone.

"The hotels are all closed, so there's another dent on demand. There is only so much milk people will drink."

With childminding services also off for now, Darren finds himself having to juggle commitments with his wife Orla, who is a lecturer in Jordanstown (Ulster University) and has to continue distance learning with pupils and having video calls with the staff.

In the middle of it all is their daughter Ava, who is coming up to her second birthday in May.

"She is just at that age where you can't keep her in the house so she is lucky you have the farm and loads of fields to go for a walk around, and unlucky in the sense that you have to go and do it!" Darren says.

For now, though, he is determined to remain positive about the new normal.

"As much as you feel you are affected, you are not as affected as other people, those that are completely locked up in the house and are going nowhere, not even out of the house," says the Scotstown man.

"I am sitting in the back field up on a tractor now. It's a different scenario.

"I know people who are working in the commercial environment who are all working from home and they are using Zoom calls all day long just to talk."

Training

He doesn't have to look too far for others affected by the shutdown.

His brother Kieran is a sales rep for a plastic tanks company and with all the hardware shops closing up, his work has been interrupted, while Monaghan forward Conor McManus is an estate agent, with that market also stalled.

It's been over a month since Monaghan's last training session and like all other squads, Seamus McEnaney's men find themselves in limbo.

"It is hard for a strength and conditioning coach to gauge programmes when you don't know what you are aiming towards, or what date you will be going again," says Darren.

"You have to be realistic and think of it starting again in August at the earliest."

Indo Farming