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Mark McHugh: I don't regret missing Donegal's season

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Mark McHugh at the launch of the Kilmacud Crokes FBD 7s

Mark McHugh at the launch of the Kilmacud Crokes FBD 7s

SPORTSFILE

Mark McHugh at the launch of the Kilmacud Crokes FBD 7s

NO regrets. Mark McHugh has made his peace with things so there's no point in looking back at what might, and maybe should, have been.

When he jumped on the plane to New York earlier this year, he was prepared for the possibility that he'd be on the outside looking in during the build-up to a Donegal All-Ireland final. That was the deal he made with himself when he headed Stateside. And it's what helps him rest easy.

"I have no regrets," McHugh says. "I enjoyed my experience in New York and if I didn't do it this year I would never have done it. I felt at the time I left I just needed a break. I wasn't enjoying what I was doing and me being there didn't help the mood in the camp.

"And I thought its not good for me being here and it's probably not good for other players so I stepped away. And I travelled and enjoyed what I did. Now I'm back and I'm fully behind the Donegal team."

Still, people in Donegal and beyond tell him he should have been involved again once he returned here. They mean well, but they are too detached to fully understand.

In any case, rejoining the panel wasn't even an option. Instead, he's ready to knuckle down with Kilcar and hope for a recall next year.

Summer

"I don't think it would be fair on the players, definitely not," McHugh says when asked if he could rejoin the squad. "You couldn't really go away for a whole summer and not train with the team and come back in and think you are good enough to take over another person's position who has been playing and training all year.

"Jim (McGuinness) himself knew he couldn't ask me back in. It didn't even cross my mind. People in the street say that to you but they don't know the ins and outs of what Gaelic football is these days. You can't go away for ten weeks and not train."

Still it must be difficult for him this week. He's not telling anyone but you suspect he wouldn't be human if a part of him didn't wish he had hung in there last April.

If he had, then this week he'd be in the Lough Erne Resort, fine-tuning preparations for an All-Ireland final, rather than promoting the Kilmacud Crokes FBD 7s, which is in its 42nd year.

Donegal's training camps have attracted a lot of attention but for McHugh they are in exactly the right place to prepare for a game of such magnitude.

In camp, you are removed from the ever building excitement, inside the bubble, preparing for what's to come. And McHugh argues you can't put a value on what can be achieved in those days.

"The great thing about it is that you're constantly along with all your team-mates," he says. "Your team-mates are usually some of your best friends. You've meetings day in, day out. You're training once or twice a day. The mood is good. If you need physio help or doctor help or a massage, they're there for you.

"As I said earlier on, you're hidden away from all you guys in the media and people out talking. It's chatting to people, talking about the game but you find yourself repeating yourself all the time to different people. You do get sick of it as a player.

"Everybody means well. You're being nice to everybody. But as a player at that stage you just want to be in your own wee place."

He dropped his brother Ryan to the bus before the semi-final win over Dublin and watched as he became a household name in one afternoon, filling the role Mark played in 2012. It helps that his young brother has flourished.

"With Ryan doing so well - there's not even regrets not to be playing. When I made this decision I said to myself, 'make sure there's no regrets' and I thought about it for long enough and said 'What happens if Donegal get to an All-Ireland final or win an All-Ireland?'

"But where I was at that time, I knew I just needed a break, as I wasn't going to enjoy anything for the next number of months.

"Maybe in that mood, I'd have affected the morale of the team so I needed to get out of there for myself and for the rest of the team. So I'm delighted for the lads and chat to them daily.

"I really hope they win on Sunday week, especially for Ryan. It would be great for another McHugh to get an All-Ireland medal, superb for him.

"We're going to enjoy the next week leading up to it. Hopefully we'll win it."

Irish Independent