He’s from Killea, he puts the goals away, and this season as Finn Harps prepare for their opening home league game of the season, they’ll be looking to ace striker, Kevin McHugh, to help eradicate the memory of last season’s disappointments and launch a serious bid for promotion.
The man who has netted 148 goals for Harps in two spells with the club lined out in Limerick last weekend and will bring his vast experience to bear in the chase for a return to the top ranks.
Born and brought up, as he says himself, in the “big city” of Killea he could always be found, from tender years, kicking a ball around. “Ever since I remember I was playing football, before, during, and after school.”
The young McHugh turned out with his local side under the guise of Bobby Toland and Richie Kelly, two men who also made their mark at Finn Park. Further spells with the likes of Drumoghill and Raphoe drew the notice of other clubs before, finally, the then Harps boss, Charlie McGeever nipped in to secure his services as Fanad United poised to sign him.
At that stage Harps were playing in the Premier Division where they would spend another couple of years before demotion to the lower ranks. After going close to reclaiming their place on two occasions, Kevin recalling play-off heartbreaks against Longford Town - his hat-trick in the second leg of that tie ultimately not enough at a time when Jonathan Speak was player-boss - and a tense laden derby showdown with Derry City, when Noel King was in charge at Finn Park, the club finally made it back into the big time.
He enjoyed fruitful frontline partnerships with the likes of Speak and James Mulligan during those seasons and even in the year Harps dropped back down to the graveyard division, McHugh managed to net fourteen goals.
He won’t say it himself but he showed commendable loyalty to the club even when Derry City representatives consistently came knocking on the door of his Killea home in effort to lure him to the Brandywell. “My home in Killea was two miles from the Brandywell and I was repeatedly asked to join City but I always said no.”
And he continued to resist until relegation for Harps in 2006 finally persuaded him that his immediate future lay elsewhere and he put pen to paper for the Candystripes.
There followed three years of Cup triumphs and, even more significantly, appearances in Europe as Stephen Kenny guided the team to victories over IFK Göteborg and Scottish outfit, Gretna, along with a draw at the Brandywell with Paris St. Germain. “It was great to play at this level, I got the chance to experience European football and that’s something I’ll always treasure.”
Following his spell at the Brandywell, Kevin joined Irish League kingpins, Linfield. “They were 11 points behind Glentoran at the time in the race for the league but it went to the last game.”
Injury, however, was to sideline the striker for up to six months - a ruptured hamstring - “my doctor put it down to all the driving I was doing” - leaving him clicking his heels.
His stint at Windsor Park over, he got speaking with then Harps boss, James Gallagher, who enquired if he’s be interested in returning to Finn Park and he had little hesitation in agreeing to rejoin the club where he had started his senior career.
“I always kept in touch with how Harps were going, it was the first result I would look for. When James approached me, it suited me to come back and I was delighted to do so.”
Now in his third season back in the blue and white, he’s looking forward to the season ahead under the dual leadership of Healy and Peter Hutton. “The club’s going through a transitional period and there’s a lot of young players who are settling in. The new stadium is on track and I think the future’s bright for the club.”
He agrees that it’s difficult for Harps to draw quality players from Dublin and other more southern catchment areas. “But Derry are also struggling to attract such players - it’s just the times we’re in.”
The Donegal side will look to the experience of the striker to help blood in the young recruits. “They’re a real ambitious bunch and I thought they played very well in our first game.”
That opening fixture brought defeat but also a measure of encouragement for the campaign ahead. “We definitely put it up to Limerick and we deserved to get at least a draw from it. If we can get a run of wins together we can push on. It’s important to take maximum points from your home fixtures and starting this weekend, we’ll be going all out to do just that against Mervue United.
“If we can get the momentum going on the field, it will help bring people through the turnstiles again which is also important for the survival of the club. People in this county are soccer mad and if we’re competitive and are playing the way we can, they’ll come to watch us,” the 32-year -ld McHugh maintains.
Married to Aine, the couple have two children, Ella (6) and Odhran who will be two in the coming weeks. Too young yet to appreciate their father’s contribution to Finn Harps over the years but any League of Ireland soccer historian will be able to fill them in when the time comes on what Kevin McHugh has meant to the Ballybofey based club.
The team will look to the experience of Kevin McHugh