Sunday 8 December 2019

Versatile Hughes feeling much more at home taking centre stage in Monaghan's march

Monaghan's Darren Hughes has finally anchored himself to a position with a permanent feel about it. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Monaghan's Darren Hughes has finally anchored himself to a position with a permanent feel about it. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

At the end of their recent Ulster quarter-final victory over Tyrone in Clones, Darren Hughes let himself go in a manner that was somewhat out of sync with his personality.

Barging into Tyrone selector Gavin Devlin on the sideline and jumping around in quite an animated fashion was uncharacteristic behaviour for arguably the most adaptable footballer in the game today.

But it had a context. Only minutes earlier, he had been black- carded for a tackle on Sean Cavanagh, a type of contact deemed cynical by referee Eddie Kinsella.

Last August Hughes had been wrongly yellow-carded in the All-Ireland quarter-final for a challenge on the same opponent, a challenge and penalty that some observers felt diluted his impact for the rest of the game. The sense of deja vu left him, by his own admission, a "nervous wreck."

Helplessly sitting out the last few minutes with his team poised for their first championship win over Tyrone in six attempts could not have been more frustrating.

And only he knew the finer detail of the tackle that banished him, a detail quickly picked up on by slow motion TV cameras that showed how Cavanagh had locked in Hughes' tackling arm to bring them both crashing to the ground. The Central Hearings Committee would later exonerate him.

How he reacted "was probably because I was a nervous wreck in the last five minutes watching from the bench," he reflected.

Trying to beat Tyrone after all those years was something that really played on their minds.

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"We had gone to the well so many times to try and beat them and had failed at whatever hurdle. Thankfully we got over this hurdle."

Hughes has spent the last couple of seasons at midfield where his dimensions and athleticism have become the norm in recent years.

At last he has anchored himself in a position that has a permanent feel about it after exposure to full- back, centre-back, centre-forward and even goalkeeper with Monaghan.

If he looks more comfortable there, it's because it is his longest spell in the one fixed position.

"I've been pushed about from half-back to midfield to half -forward, back to full-back, goals and everywhere. I've never started in the full-forward line, but I have played in it," he said.

"Midfield is a position I feel comfortable in. You have the opportunity to drive forward, and link the play more so than anywhere else on the pitch. You are always in the game, defending or attacking and that's where I feel more comfortable."

He admits to being "a bit" surprised at the furore over Stephen Gollogly's challenge on Mark McHugh in last year's Ulster final that forced both players from the field.

According to Donegal, McHugh was left with concussion and a deep gash in his leg that put him out of the subsequent qualifier against Laois. Hughes believes the incident was "overhyped."

"Anybody who saw it saw that Stephen Gollogly went for the ball, and got the ball, it was a bit over-hyped with Mark McHugh's injury.

"He played against Mayo two weeks later, so it obviously wasn't that bad. With Stephen, anyone that knows him knows he plays hard and fair and in the heat of the moment in an Ulster final in the first five minutes he was going for the ball, got it and there was a collision.

"It was a tough tackle and that's what you want to see. It was just an unfortunate collision."

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