Geevagh native made his debut in 2010
It has been an emotional few days for Sligo’s towering full-forward Pat Hughes as he called time on an illustrious career in the black of the Yeats County immediately after last Sunday’s epic joust with Cavan in Croke Park.
The genial Geevagh giant had his mind made before Sligo took on Cavan in Croke Park last Sunday. Pat got a point and he set up another one in an exciting affair where the Yeats County just lost out.
He now intends to go travelling with his girlfriend Ashling, for a year or so and has not ruled out a return to teaching as he is the third- generation teacher in the Hughes clan following in the footsteps of his father John Hughes and his granny Betty Hughes who is hale and hearty and will be 99 in October.
But looking at tributes to this most eloquent and most unassuming man on social media, it is clear that he is held in the highest of esteem.
“It is an emotional day today and I looked at some of them and it is nice to read them and to see that somewhere along the line I might have had a positive impact on a few people, and it is lovely to see”.
He added: “I had made up my mind to go for a while, although it was something that was known for a while, and I was hoping that it would be in two weeks’ time rather than last Sunday but I knew that this year was going to be my last year”.
Pat is still only 30 but believes that Gaelic football is increasingly becoming a younger man’s game.
“I have been knocking around the squad for 12 years having made my debut in 2010.
“I have had to put an awful lot of things on hold and there are other things I want to do in life and other people, my family and my girlfriend have put things on hold for me to allow me to follow my dream for the last 12 years.
“So, I think it is time that I gave something back to them as well”.
The immediate plan for Pat and his girlfriend Ashling to go and see a bit of the world. But it is not the end of his football career as he definitely will be lining out with Geevagh and has not ruled out coaching/management following in the footsteps of his very influential father John Hughes.
“We plan to start in Australia at the end of the summer”.
Reflecting on last Sunday’s defeat, Pat said it was yet another case of so close and yet so far.
“Sadly, this has been the case for Sligo over a number of years. But I think great progress has been made with this squad.
“If you look back at this time last year, we were after suffering a heavy defeat to Mayo with no back door and nowhere to go. This year we had a chance to really develop as we had a full League campaign, and we were very unfortunate as a couple of results went against us with Tipperary beating Cavan in a bit of an upset where we just lost out on promotion.
“We had a lot of games this year, so the progression has been huge and although it did not work out for us last Sunday, I believe the squad has come on a lot this year”.
The game on Sunday was old style football with both sides attacking and Hughes hopes that this continues in the Tallteann Cup. “This would not work against Kerry or Dublin, but it works very well when the two teams of equal standards meet.
“There has been a lot of very good games in Division Two, Three and Four but they don’t get all that much media attention. We don’t see it and often the only time the general public see Sligo, Leitrim or Fermanagh is in the provincial championships where they are forced to set up in a negative way to avoid a hiding from a bigger county”.
Twelve of Sligo’s starting team on Sunday were 25 or under which gives great hope for the future, in Hughes’ view. “Absolutely and we already have two lads from the U-20s in there in Jack Lavin and Mark Connolly/ McGowan and Joe Keaney was to join the squad too but he is travelling in the US currently but hopefully will be back for next season. “I was up at Breffni Park watching the U-20s against Kildare in the All-Ireland semi-final and I was very impressed and if you look at that squad there are definitely three or four more who could step up to the senior ranks. And there are good minors too and look at the leaders that have developed over the past few seasons the likes of Seán Carrabine, Paul McNamara, Paul Kilcoyne and Eddie McGuinness, these are guys who are still fairly young but have developed.
“All of those things point to a bright future for Sligo, and you still have players of the calibre of Niall Murphy, Keelan Cawley and Aidan Devaney that are rock solid. There are lads like Mark Walsh who has added a spark to our defence this year and Alan Reilly was our top scorer in the Tailteann Cup, and we have a strong squad, but those players will have their day too and they drive everyone else on”. But there was never any way that Pat Hughes was not going to be heavily involved in Gaelic football given his DNA and his general background. “My father John has been a huge influence on me in every respect. From the very first time I was in Croke Park I was hooked.
“In the 1990s, there was a thing where a kid got to run out on to the pitch when the teams were coming out of the tunnel to tell the referee that they were coming out again to clear the pitch, somebody small that would not be noticed.
“And from that day until this, dad managed me at various levels from U-8 right the whole way up”.
Pat went to Garbally College in Ballinasloe where he played rugby and later went to Sligo Grammar School where he played out half for Connacht U-20s and won a Connacht U-18 title with the Grammar School in 2010 and was in academies in Galway for a while also.
In this, he was following in the footsteps of his father John who played Senior rugby for Clontarf in Dublin for many years at No 8. “Rugby was a big attraction for me. I loved the rugby, but I got a call from Kevin Walsh to join the Sligo Senior football panel, so I came back from Galway, packed up the rugby and started to play Gaelic football with Sligo.
“I made my debut for Sligo in an FDB game against Galway in January 2011 and I came off the bench a few times in the League and in the Championship”. Pat made his championship debut in New York in 2012, got man-of-the-match and it was a special year.
“This year was a special year too going back out to New York again after ten years and I had made up my mind about retiring and nobody knew, and it was a nice way to come full circle”.
Pat went to his father John’s Alma Mater in St Pat’s Drumcondra and won a Trench Cup with the college and then headed north to do a post grad in that famous university footballing academy that is Jordanstown.
It was a star-studded side but UCC caught them in the Sigerson Cup final in 2014.
“I enjoyed that year very much and it was a great experience and I learned a lot from the coaches up there during that time”.
In the earlier part of his career Pat would have played around centre forward and then into full-forward for the bulk of his career.
He had a big game against Tyrone in the final round of the Qualifiers in Croke Park in 2015.
“We got a big beating from Mayo in the Connacht final but had a big win over Roscommon in the semi-final in Markievicz Park and that is one of the highlights of my career.
“That was a mighty victory as they were coming down there full of confidence and we turned them over on a Saturday evening and there was a huge crowd in Markievicz Park.
“I was lucky enough to play well that day, but I had David Kelly, Adrian Marren and Mark Breheny along with me in that forward line. When you have three players like those around you it makes your job that much easier”.
So, who was the greatest Sligo player that Pat played alongside and unsurprisingly the answer is measure and plural?
“I will give you a convoluted answer to that. I suppose there are two parts to this. Some of the players that I played with have given so much to Sligo and were huge influences and maybe did some of their best work behind the scenes that might not have been seen in a widespread area.
“I think of people like Neil Ewing and Charlie Harrison and guys who were such leaders among the squad and maybe not always the guys who were getting man of the match but who never missed training and were the guys setting the standards.
“And Keelan Cawley falls into that category too as a huge leader and someone who has given a huge chunk of his life to Sligo as well. In terms of people who have influences in the forward line you had David Kelly, Mark Breheny and Adrian Marren and you would be hard pressed to find three better forwards around.”
When asked if he will miss the county scene after so many years being involved, he said: “Of course, I will, and the last 24 hours have been very emotional. I miss it already.
“I will miss the big games in Markievicz and Croke Park like Sunday but I will miss most the people in the dressing room and the craic on the bus, the chats with the players in the hotel before an away match and things like that I will really miss because a team is made up of players who have done so much for Sligo is what I will miss as much as big moments”.
When asked if he would get involved in coaching or management down the line, he said: “It is something I would not rule out as I have been involved at underage level in Geevagh and college’s squad.
“I have huge admiration for inter county coaches and management. We just have to turn up a few times a week with our kit bags and our boots.
“They have to do so much behind the scenes, and they don’t the thanks they deserve in a lot of cases.
“So ,it is a tough job but I would like to get involved at some stage”
Finally, the teaching gene is very strong in John’s family through his father John and his granny Betty Hughes, who will be 99 this October and is still going strong. “Teaching is very much in the family, and I followed my father’s footsteps into St Pat’s Drumcondra.
“I will not rule that out either.”