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'It's exciting, you could have a good body of work done and your season could be over in one day. It'll be a humdinger'

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Donegal’s Hugh McFadden with the Sam Maguire for last year’s All-Ireland SFC
series launch – for now his focus is on club action with Killybegs. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Donegal’s Hugh McFadden with the Sam Maguire for last year’s All-Ireland SFC series launch – for now his focus is on club action with Killybegs. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Donegal’s Hugh McFadden with the Sam Maguire for last year’s All-Ireland SFC series launch – for now his focus is on club action with Killybegs. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Nothing sums up the unpredictability of the race for Sam Maguire in 2020 better than the fact that either Donegal or Tyrone will have their bags packed before the season has properly commenced. No back door, no second chance, sayonara.

It's a throwback to a bygone era when knockout action left counties on tenterhooks, with excitement at fever pitch, but it's a case of needs must given the unprecedented health crisis currently gripping the world.

It's probably fitting that Hallowe'en night hosts the titanic Ulster SFC quarter-final clash because one high-profile county will be left spooked as they are forced to watch the remainder of the season from the sidelines, but Donegal star Hugh McFadden can't wait for the pressure which this once-off clash brings.

With all the doom and gloom around amid the coronavirus pandemic, McFadden feels this type of excitement is just what the GAA needs and the Killybegs clubman is braced for "do-or-die" football.

"I haven't spent too much time worrying about it but I was walking down Killybegs recently and Manus Boyle and Barry McGowan, two legends of the game, were joking to me and saying, 'Now boy, you know how we had it for all those years'," McFadden said.

"They started laughing at me walking up the road. But it's exciting, you could have a good body of work done and your season could be over in one day. It'll be a humdinger.

Once-off

"Whether it's in MacCumhaill Park or Croke Park or wherever, we're all looking forward to it in Ulster anyway. It'll be the first time where I've experienced the whole do-or-die in an Ulster Championship and given the circumstances of the year we've had, we need something big."

As a once-off, McFadden is excited by the prospect of a knockout championship and sees it as "a perfect fit" but keeping such structures for future seasons doesn't appeal to him given the level of preparation that goes into inter-county football these days.

This season is different in every way imaginable with the All-Ireland final down for decision six days before Christmas and McFadden admits that there would be no better way to cap an extraordinary year than to be in the mix come December 19.

"It would be a special Christmas if you could have a successful year. It'd be mad to be training under floodlights coming up to big championship games but I'd gladly do it if we're in the hunt," the 26-year-old said.

"We're used to summer football so it'll be a change but everyone has accepted that 2020 is different and we have the appetite to embrace whatever comes at us in Donegal anyway."

2020 sees Donegal bidding to bounce back from successive seasons where they never kicked for Declan Bonner despite securing provincial honours as they subsequently failed to fire in the Super 8s and were dumped out of the fray.

McFadden, who joined the county squad in 2014 under Jim McGuinness before making his championship debut the following season, will put county to one side over the coming months, though, as he makes an assault on Donegal SFC honours.

Alongside county team-mate Eoghan Bán Gallagher, McFadden returns to competitive action on Saturday night against the likes of Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty when they face Kilcar in a league tie.

The next day they will reunited, however, as the Donegal squad get on their bikes for a charity cycle in aid of 10-month old baby Olivia 'Livie' Mulhern, who has been diagnosed with a rare genetic neuromuscular condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).

They will set off from nine different parts of Donegal and cycle to MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey while visiting all 39 Donegal football clubs and meeting club members and players.

Visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/teamdonegal4teamlivie to give your support to the #TeamDonegal4Livie campaign

Irish Independent