By Frank Craig

Ryan McHugh delivered a ‘man of the match’ performance last Sunday that perfectly displayed his full repertoire of footballing skills.

The Kilcar man glided effortlessly through countless gaps that, at times, just didn’t look there. And his brave evasiveness was crucial when Monaghan cynically looked to take him out of the game on a number of occasions.

When they did finally pin him down along the touchline, the crude manner in which Monaghan looked to end his afternoon prematurely was straight out of the ‘foul’ playbook that helped remove brother Mark from the fray in the very same fixture, exactly a year ago.

However, just like Eamonn and Neil McGee, McHugh simply cleaned himself up, dusted himself down and was straight back into the action.

Speaking afterwards, McHugh’s delight was palpable. Last year’s introduction to senior intercounty football was a difficult one. But in the bowels of the main stand in St. Tiernach’s Park, he finally had his hands on the Anglo Celt Cup and he was cherishing it.  

“This is unbelievable… just a great feeling,” he told the Post.. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s my best day in football. It’s hard to put into words. Hopefully we can go on to even bigger and better things but we’ll take it one step at a time.

“Listen, to be honest, last year was so disappointing. There was a lot of hurt there. We were due one over on Monaghan to be fair. I think it’s 31 years since we last beat them (in Championship).

“A lot of people were saying that in the lead up and I suppose it does roll over in your mind. But an Ulster title is a huge thing. It’s such a special day for Donegal with the Minors doing the business as well.”   

McHugh, along with clubmate Patrick McBrearty, were really to the fore in helping Donegal to a memorable third provincial crown in four years. McHugh agreed that made the win feel extra special.

He added: “We’re all very close so that makes it extra special. Paddy was excellent when he came on – he’s so talented. But it really was a team effort. Everyone really emptied themselves and that’s the satisfying thing today.

“Jim and the management lads have installed a great belief in us. We knew we weren’t going to lie down today no matter what. The goal set us back a little but we showed great character to respond, push on and get the win.”

Donegal now advance to the last eight in the race for Sam with their stock back in high regard. McHugh says that the side will savour this return to the summit in Ulster before turning attention to Saturday, August 9 and an All-Ireland quarter-final date with either Armagh or Meath.

“Ulster is very hard to win. You’re really tested and that will now stand us in good stead. Of course we wanted to go into the All-Ireland quarter-finals as champions and thankfully we’ve done that. Hopefully now we can kick on.”  

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