Donegal must get Mark McHugh back, warns Kevin Cassidy
FORMER Donegal star Kevin Cassidy says manager Jim McGuinness needs to do everything he can to get Mark McHugh back on board.
"Whatever has happened, Donegal cannot afford to lose players like Mark McHugh, he is too important to the way Donegal play," Cassidy said in his weekly column in 'Gaelic World'.
McHugh caused a huge stir by leaving the Donegal panel recently, just 24 hours after coming off the bench in their Division 2 Allianz League final defeat to Monaghan.
There is speculation that his inability to get a starting place contributed to his departure but Donegal selector Damien Diver said McHugh left because "he felt he needed a bit of time out" and perhaps "wasn't enjoying it at the moment between injuries and that kind of thing."
But Cassidy, who was controversially cut from the squad by McGuinness before Donegal's All-Ireland victory two years ago, says that McHugh is irreplaceable and that, without him, Donegal don't have the players to develop a new system.
He also said that the loss of McGuinness' former right-hand man Rory Gallagher has had a "lingering effect" on the team and intimated that McHugh would still be involved if that hadn't occurred.
"I feel the departure of Rory Gallagher has had a lingering effect on the squad," Cassidy said.
"Rory would have been popular within the squad and himself and Mark would have been especially close. And if relations between Jim McGuinness and Mark have drifted then this could well be a likely cause.
"I don't think Donegal have another player to fill that (McHugh's) role, nor do they have the players to develop a new system," he declared. "If we take Jim's first two years, which were his best, Mark played a pivotal role.
"The game plan nearly hinged on how he played so to take him out of the equation leaves a massive gap to fill.
"This issue should have been sorted out long before it reached the public domain.
"As a manager you have to deal with all sorts of personalities and issues.
"I believe that Jim should be doing all he can to persuade Mark to stay. If there are issues then be a bigger man for the good of the team and try sorting them out," he added.
"Some of the stories flying about are not fair on the player or the team management and are becoming a major distraction for all involved," Cassidy said before adding, tongue-in-cheek: "I would offer myself as a mediator but, given how my last discussion with Jim went, that might not be a good idea."
The latest debate in Donegal has occurred over a player welfare issue involving some minor players.
Letterkenny Gaels raised what they called a 'serious player welfare issue' at this week's county committee meeting, criticising the short notice they were given for a minor league play-off which involved some of their players who were just back from a trip to China.
Seven of their players had to travel to the game straight from the airport and five came off the bench and played.