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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019
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Donegal star McHugh looking forward to home comforts

The All-Ireland winner on Ballybofey getting the green light for Tyrone battle, Jim McGuinness’s role with Celtic and his brother Ryan joining the senior squad.

Mark McHugh at the launch of Race The Rás in Croke Park yesterday.
Mark McHugh at the launch of Race The Rás in Croke Park yesterday.
Image: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

MARK MCHUGH WAS at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night, sharing in the dejection of the Irish supporters in the freezing conditions.

Kilcar native McHugh watched on as Seamus Coleman, his neighbour from Killybegs, and the rest of the Republic of Ireland side saw their hopes of success dashed by David Alaba’s goal in the dying embers of the match.

He trooped away from the D4 venue in a disappointed fashion but the news that then filtered through on his own sporting front was welcoming.

Donegal’s opening defence of their All-Ireland and Ulster crowns is a mouth-watering tussle against Tyrone on May 26th.

And Donegal’s fears that they would have to cough up home advantage have been shredded with MacCumhail Park in Ballybofey confirmed on Tuesday as the venue for that game.

“It’s a big lift for us,” admits McHugh. “It is something we have been pushing for since the we heard the draw. We felt we deserved the game to be in Ballybofey, us being All-Ireland champions.

“I think we half-expected it to go to Clones, with the majority of people thinking Ballybofey was too small. But I think Ballybofey holds 18,000-18,500 now so there will be a great atmosphere on the day. The atmosphere will build up for this game because it is a real local derby and there is going to be a lot of hype.

“The other thing is the last number of years we have been away from home in the preliminary round so it is good to get back to Ballybofey. For the local people of Donegal it will be a boost for the economy.

Before that Donegal must stave off the threat of league relegation ahead of their final game in Division 1 on Sunday week at home to Dublin.

It has not been a sparkling spring for Donegal but there has been an adjustment to life as All-Ireland champions and parking the celebrations from that triumph.

“If we don’t win (against Dublin) we are going to be waiting on other results so hopefully we can do a job to get over the line. You always want to be playing Division 1 football and we need to be playing that next year we feel.

“The boys had only come back from the holiday in January so we hadn’t got a wild lot of training done. Just to survive in Division 1 was one of the main aims.

“There is that wee sense of pressure, firstly from your home support and other teams are probably expecting more off you too. Especially this year going out before league matches and teams are applauding you out onto the field. You deal with that.”

Donegal have also had to deal with sharing their manager with Glasgow Celtic. Yet Jim McGuinness’s position as a performance consultant has not diminished his input to the Ulster side.

“Jim hasn’t missed a training session, not even a recovery session, since we started back training,” revealed McHugh. “He must have it really well worked out with his schedule.

“Training might be a little bit later, maybe 7.30, to make sure he is back in time from the trip down from Belfast or wherever he comes in from. He’s fully committed to both jobs.”

Ryan McHugh in action for the Donegal U21′s last week.
Pic: INPHO/Presseye/Andrew Paton

McGuinness has freshened up his panel this year as well with McHugh’s younger brother Ryan, who notched a point against Mayo last Sunday, one of those who has been added to the setup.

“He is getting on alright,” outlined Mark. “He came in December-January and he was buzzing at the time. He was with the U21’s last week, they had a good win over Tyrone. They are full of confidence so they are going to help the fight for (senior) positions.”

Watch Mayo’s great counter-attacking goal from last Sunday

GAA fixtures for the week ahead

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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