In his man of the match performance during Sunday’s Ulster final Mark McHugh covered every blade of grass at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones, the same hallowed turf that was then swamped with Donegal folk after they retained their crown.
Jim McGuinness’s side justified their tag of favouritism with a 2-18 to 0-13 win over the team managed by James McCartan. McHugh’s selflessness and work rate in both defence and attack means his role is imperative to McGuinness’s evolving blueprint. For years Donegal had the unwanted reputation of partying at inappropriate times but the outpouring of joy yesterday was certainly merited.
“It just shows what it means to the people of Donegal,” McHugh said moments after Michael Murphy lofted the Anglo Celt Cup aloft. They came out to support us last year but that was just crazy out there today. It means everything to us, the players, the management. It’s a great day for Donegal football.
“I was just accepting the man of the match award on behalf of the team because there was 19 players out there who played extraordinary football. The second half really opened up for us and we cut loose and Down just had no answer to us.”
Donegal weren’t at their energetic best in the first half but still went in a point to the good with Leo McLoone’s goal the pivotal score. Then, in a totally dominant second 35 minutes Frank McGlynn sliced through the heart of the Down defence for a second goal as points peppered over Brendan McVeigh’s crossbar.
“Only for Leo’s goal two or three minutes before half-time we could’ve gone in two or three points down at half-time,” McHugh added.
“Lucky enough we got it and we came out a point up for the start of the second half.
“We got our second wind and really took off when Frank scored the second goal, which really killed it off. Thank God he put it away and I thought he finished it really well.
“Any day you win anything for Donegal football is a privilege. It’s a privilege to be a part of this team. It’s a real special feeling. Comparing to last year I remember going back to Donegal Town it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.
“We probably felt a lot more pressure coming into today. We were probably a lot more nervous, I know I was myself. But once we got here it was another Ulster final and an occasion to enjoy.”
Donegal’s appreciation of just how difficult a championship is to negotiate means they will never underestimate the value of their provincial championship.
Now though, their attention will turn to Croke Park and the All-Ireland series on August Bank Holiday and regardless of who progresses from this coming weekend’s fourth round qualifiers, few teams will want to be paired with Donegal.
“We’re just going to have to get fully focused for the next game now,” McHugh said.“Whoever it is we’re going to go into Croke Park a confident team. We fell we’ve worked hard enough and deserve to be there.
“Hopefully we can push on to bigger and better things. We’re were disappointed last year after the Dublin match but whoever we get this year hopefully we’ll be a different team. Hopefully we’ll have gained experience from last year and push onto that All-Ireland final.”