Hughes' patience pays off for Shels

In-form striker relishing life back in top flight

Aidan Fitzmaurice

HE'S THE ultimate journeyman pro.

Spells with nine clubs over 13 seasons, most of that time spent in the League of Ireland First Division, and he's been around for so long that four of his former clubs are no longer in football.

But Shelbourne striker Philip Hughes is earning kudos and respect for his feats with the Reds this season, and the form of the 30-year-old is one of the main reasons why Shels have a spring in their step and confidence on board as they make the cross-city trek tonight to face champions Shamrock Rovers.

He's a throwback to another era in the League of Ireland when strikers like Paul Newe, 'Ski' McGee and Mickey O'Connor went from club to club and brought goals everywhere they went.

Hughes is also a symbol of the part-time pro as he has a day job outside of football, working as an electrician with Irish Rail and as he prepares for tonight's clash with a Rovers side who are full-time in all but name, he admits it's not easy.

"It's hard at this stage of the season when you have a lot of matches, you have training and you have a day job as well. It's not easy being part-time but nights like the win against Derry last week make it worthwhile," says Hughes.

"You look through the Rovers squad and most of them can concentrate on football as they don't work outside the game, but we all have jobs.

"The Rovers lads training in the mornings and doing warm-downs and all of that, and there I am at work, fixing telephones, plugging in modems, getting things working and doing whatever has to be done. But it's all worth it and I enjoy all this," says Hughes, who is finally enjoying the chance to play Premier Division football regularly after spending so much time in the relative obscurity of Division One.

"I'm loving it this season. I only played a little bit of Premier Division football with Pats and Dublin City. Maybe that was partly my own fault, maybe it was the fact that managers didn't trust me but I bided my time in the First Division and games like this, away to Rovers in the Premier, are what it's all about."

Despite the strength of the Rovers squad, Hughes says that Shels travel to Tallaght intent on getting a result. "Rovers are a good side but they're not unbeatable, I think if we can play to our strengths we can get a result," he stressed.

"If we can reproduce our form from last week we have every chance of getting something from the game here in Tallaght. I don't think we played that well in the first two games of the season, even though we got two good results, but we looked good against Derry and we're high on confidence.

"No one here at Shels is talking about the title or anything like that. We're joint top at the moment but it's early days, for now we're just trying to rack up as man points as we can from the first series of games and see where we are after that," he says.

"But it is enjoyable at the moment, everyone at the club has a smile on their face. We have a tough run of games, Rovers tonight and then Pats next week, but we're feeling confident. We're picking up points and getting results so let's see where that takes us," Hughes added.

Hughes' career showed some early promise, when he was on the books of St Pats. He made it into the first team at Richmond Park and even got to experience European football, making three appearances for Pats in their Intertoto Cup campaign in 2002.

But competition for places at Pats made it hard for Hughes to get regular games, and loan spells with Kilkenny City (15 goals in 20 games) and St Francis were a sign of the travelling that would come in his career.

Leaving Pats in 2003, Hughes began his wandering around the league as he lined out for Kildare County, Dublin City, UCD, Monaghan United, Dundalk, Shelbourne, Monaghan (again) and his last move, back to Shels.

His goals helped Shels to a very successful season last term where they won promotion and also reached the FAI Cup final, narrowly losing to Sligo Rovers, and Hughes remained a key part of the side that carried on into the 2012 season. And he's started well, scoring in every game so far, against Sligo Rovers, Bohemians and, last week, Derry City.

"Three goals in three games is a decent return for me but I'm not getting carried away, I'll just take it one game at a time. I try to score at least one in every game I play, I know that won't happen all the time but I can try and I will be trying to score here against Rovers tonight," added Hughes.

"To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed to see my goal go in against Derry last week as the keeper seemed to have it covered but it dipped in front of him and went in, it was a bit of a lucky goal but I'll take it and I'd settle for another one of them tonight in Tallaght."