Conor McCarthy and Darren Hughes. Andrew Paton/INPHO
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Darren Hughes seeking to join pantheon of Scotstown greats

Champions eight times out of the last eleven Monaghan championships, Hughes now faces former county manager Malachy O’Rourke in final.

THERE’S AN ONGOING debate that travels from Jack’s Bar in Tydavnet, to Moyna’s of Scotstown that some of the older hands have been knocking craic out of for years.

It involves the picking of the All-Time Scotstown greatest 15 players. It goes through the usual names that you would expect; the Gerry McCarvilles, the Gene Sherrys, the Ray McCarrons and so on. 

Then, they come to the present group. You might have one of, if not the greatest ever goalkeeper in Rory Beggan, along with the Hughes brothers, Conor McCarthy and so on. But, as devilment would have it, they don’t really qualify as they don’t have any Ulster club titles.

“Ah here, you hear it in pub talk, being around Ulster clubs and the men who won them,” says Darren Hughes after they beat Trillick with the benefit of a last-second run and point from Conor McCarthy that rescued extra-time for them, before going on to seal the deal.

“Then the all-time top 15 would be discussed and a few of us wouldn’t make it. No Ulster club, so…”

They now face Ulster champions, Derry’s Glen in the final.

“Here, we are in a position to win one now. We were there before and we came up short so we have a lot of learning to do.”

At 36 now, there’s not much he hasn’t seen in the game. And when he’s asked about Glen he tends to give away little. Having made his debut for Monaghan in 2006, he never played under a manager as long as he played under Glen manager Malachy O’Rourke, who managed Monaghan to the Ulster title in 2013 and 2015.

“I’m not surprised at the success he is having. We were taught a good lesson by them a couple of years ago in the Ulster club.”

He refers to their meeting in Celtic Park in the 2021 quarter-final. Both he and his brother Kieran Hughes were sent off and the result ran away from Scotstown.

They have a new management now. David McCague radiates calmness and authority.

Those qualities were needed in abundance when Trillick’s Leroy Brennan put them a point in front in the final minute of the game.

“The ref told us there was 45 seconds to be played,” revealed Hughes.

“We got the kickout. ‘Cess’ (Conor McCarthy) was on the line. He was holding and holding it. We were just glad he timed it, the right man in the right place and thankfully it got over.

“At that stage we were just glad to get another twenty minutes at it.”

Asked if the team had a plan to create such a ‘buzzer-beater’ score in such circumstances, he replied to the assembled, “It’s up to you to figure out. I’m not going to tell you!”

Scotstown have been on this road a long time; champions eight times out of the last eleven Monaghan championships.

This is their third final in that time, having lost to Crossmaglen Rangers in 2015 and Gaoth Dobhair in 2018. They are the epitome now of ‘battle-hardened’, especially after beating Kilcoo and Trillick in such trying circumstances.

“Those games, we have been in enough tight games with those players over the years. And there’s a core of county boys there who have had a number of games that have went to the wire,” Hughes says.

“There was no panic in us, knowing that we had one more play. We just had to get the ball in hand and after that, it was up to us. We had nobody to blame but ourselves. We would be disappointed with the first half and the game could have been over at one stage when we were three points up but we missed God knows how many chances (13 wides).”

And what they have now, is Jack McCarron. He might have had an off-day in front of the posts, but for the second game in a row, he was there at the death, winning breaks from kickouts again.

“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his workrate,” says Hughes of McCarron.

“He might have got six or seven today if he had have hit the wides and we will nail him on that later on. But he’s a phenomenal footballer, what he brings to us on the inside line. He sets the tone. His workrate is outrageous.”

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