Hugh McFadden got his first taste of championship football against Armagh in Donegal’s last outing in the championship in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.
After a couple of seasons warming the bench, the 22 year-old from Killybegs, who is something of a late developer, enjoyed the experience and is looking forward to many more outings in the white heat of championship football.
“It is about putting your head down and working hard in training and trusting Rory Gallagher and the management team,” said Hugh.
“They have a game plan in place and they have certain players to carry out duties for certain games. It is up to me now to put my best foot forward in training along with the rest of the players that are pushing for a place in the team and see how we can help push on in training and improve the team,” insisted the second year student at St Patrick’s College in Dublin.
Hugh’s road to playing senior football for Donegal was not the conventional route. He did not come up through the county’s development squads system. His first time to don a green and gold jersey was at minor level and that was for only two cameo appearances against Cavan and Derry, in the Ulster Championship of 2012.
Back then Hugh, who comes from a strong soccer tradition, was playing League of Ireland soccer with Sligo Rovers and dreaming of following in the footsteps of Seamie Coleman, and a professional career in the England.
“I was with Sligo Rovers for the 2011/2012 season and unfortunately things did not work out at the time. I was supposed to join Athlone on a six month contract at the end of the season and when I came home I got a call from Maxi Curran, who was the Donegal U-21 manager.
“Obviously, like every young fellow around Killybegs, the dream was to play across the water but the offer to play with Donegal, given the buzz that was around the county after the 2012 All-Ireland win, it was hard to turn it down.
“I looked up to a lot of the players in the county team and the opportunity to join a great group of players and hopefully enjoy some success.
“Ryan McHugh is a cousin of mine and he encouraged me to join the U-21s so I decided to give it a go. Maxi was good to me and brought me under his wing. He was probably the first man in the county set up to give me a real chance.
“I learned a lot under Maxi. He put in a massive amount of work with me and a lot of my first education as regards county football came from Maxi.”
Donegal, with Hugh McFadden, in the middle of the park, had a good Ulster U-21 championship run in 2013 and made it all the way to the Ulster final before losing the decider to Cavan.
Killybegs had a good championship run in the Donegal 2013 club championship and made it all the way to the county final. During that championship run Hugh impressed none other than Donegal senior manager Jim McGuinness.
The final whistle had scarcely gone in the county final when Jim McGuinness was on the telephone inviting Hugh into the county squad.
“Throughout 2012 and 2013, like all young fellas, I followed and supported the county team and looked up to the players. To get the call from Jim McGuinness was exciting but I also knew when I got the call that I had a lot of hard work to do.
“I had lost a lot of years coaching and development as a Gaelic player and from the very first day I kept challenging myself to improve my game and get to a position where I would make the team and be able to do my best for Donegal.
“I did a lot of work with Eugene Ivors in the gym in Dublin. I had a lot of work to do on my fitness, strength and conditioning to get into aerobic shape to be able to compete with the rest of the squad in training.
“Rory Gallagher, when I was involved in the county team in 2013, did a lot of work on my skills and my basic understanding of the game and he continued that on again last year in 2014.
“Manus Boyle and Shay Murrin spent a lot of time on non county training nights working on my skills and catching up on the years I had missed in my early underage years.”
Last season was Hugh’s first full year in the senior set up and he made a number of appearances as a replacement in the course of the Allianz League campaign.
“I used last season as a learning experience. I took note of everything I needed to improve on. I watched other lads in training such as Colm McFadden, Neil McGee, Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh, guys you look up to.
“Last year was definitely a learning experience for me. The fact that Donegal won Ulster and got to an All-Ireland final has developed my hunger for football.”
Hugh got a lot of game time in this season’s Allianz League campaign and got his first taste of the white heat of championship in the Athletic Grounds against Armagh.
“I had some mixed performances in the league and some decent performances and they have given me a good grounding for the championship.
“As every other player I want to be on the team but the most important thing is that we prepare as best we can for the game and be as ready as we possibly can for Derry.
“My job is to make sure all I can to help Donegal win and if that is coming off the bench or starting or pushing another player in training, I’ll be happy as long as it is for the good of the team.”