A bleed on the brain and two concussions in the space of seven months convinced Ryan McHugh to take a complete break from football.
Donegal’s two-time All-Star had to make himself unavailable for Kilcar having incurred a head injury in September after already taking eight weeks off earlier in the year following a blow to the head
Speaking on the PwC All-Stars trip to Philadelphia, McHugh recalled:
“I had two concussions. I had one at the start of the league this year and I took about eight weeks off. I had a slight bleed in my brain. So I was advised medically to take time off and to take a rest.”
In fact, McHugh suffered “knocks” in four matches, three for the county - “Dublin, Kildare and Tyrone. Our doctor, Kevin Moran, is one of the top doctors in Ireland and he was looking after me. So I took about six to eight weeks off and I was grand then.
“I went back to the club and we had a challenge match against St Vincent’s of Dublin. I picked up another knock (to the head) in that game and I don’t really remember a lot about that.
“I got the CT scan and was advised again by the doctor to take a longer rest.
“It was a rest you didn’t want to take - we won the county championship last year and we had a chance to defend our title.
“So it was a break you didn’t want to take but you have to think of your health later in life.
“It’s not like when you break a leg, you come back and try to build it up in the gym.
It’s just about rest. That is all you can do. It’s not just football, I had to stay away from computers and that sort of stuff. That was what I was advised to do which was difficult in this day and age.
“It is worrying but I didn’t think about it. Maybe Mum and Dad might have thought more about it but I was that engrossed in trying to get back and get ready for the next Donegal match.”
The subject of concussion wasn’t one McHugh was well versed in before his experiences but the advice of Moran has been invaluable.
“The first time I had it, I didn’t get the symptoms and stuff until about two weeks later at training one night. I just felt ill and dizzy and stuff. I went to Kevin and he pulled me out straight away. If Kevin wasn’t there, I could have trained on. So definitely I think that the more education people have the better.”
There would be an argument that McHugh’s style of play lends itself to picking up concussions. It’s a topic he and his father Martin have spoke about as well as one he has researched.
“I was reading up on Johnny Sexton and there was a lot written about him and head injuries and concussions. He had to change the style of the way he tackles. I don’t know the basics of rugby but he said he changed the style of his tackle and the way he went in (to a tackle(.
“So it is something I can look at in the future. It is easy to say it sitting around the table but when you are in the heat of a Championship battle and the ball is there to be won, it’s another story. But it is something to look at along with different aspects of my game.”
McHugh will return to a game where the rules have changed, some which will impact considerably on Donegal given the high number of goals they scored after stringing together more than three hand-passes last summer including his own in the Ulster final win over Fermanagh.
“I think three handpasses is very small. Personally, I don’t think there’s a need for the handpass (rule change) anyway. Ulster football might be a bit different to down the country. There is probably more handpassing in other provinces. A lot of people said I’m famous for palming balls into the net. I don’t think those goals are going to come about too often with the new rules.”
Working alongside Stephen Rochford is something the 24-year-old is also looking forward to. “Stephen’s CV is hugely impressive with Mayo and with Corofin and as a player as well he has won plenty, I was chatting with him a couple of weeks ago and he’s hugely enthusiastic about it. I think it is good times in Donegal, we’ve got Karl Lacey back as well and there are a couple of other additions to the backroom team so it’s great.
He added: “There are good footballers in Donegal, young exciting footballers coming through so it is a matter of trying to nourish them now and taking them through the ranks and try get the best 15 possible on the pitch.” McHugh was behind the county board when they took the decision to question the scheduling of Donegal’s Super 8 game against Dublin for Croke Park. “Listen, as a player, don’t get me wrong, you want to be playing in Croke Park every opportunity you can. But to topple the Dubs, I suppose maybe you might have a better chance if you played them in Clones or somewhere like that.”