Hughes: Red Hands hungry as ever for success

LIKE many of his teammates, Kevin Hughes is in his 13th season as a member of the Tyrone senior squad.

Age, however, has not diminished the fervour with which the Red Hand veterans continue to embrace the game.

“It’s like when you’re a young fellow, it’s just the love of the game,” said Hughes.

“You love playing sport, that’s why you do it. And that’s the case when you’re playing county football. That’s what you dream of when you’re a young lad, and then when you do eventually break onto the county panel, you want to stay there for as long as you can.

“It’s a short enough career, when you think of the grand scheme of things, and you’re a long time retired.

“And we have been lucky to have been playing together for such a long time, and to get a bit of success, which helps a lot.”

Hughes was drafted into the squad in 1999, a year after helping the county to an All-Ireland minor triumph, with teenage talents who have since become household names, including Stephen O’Neill, Philip Jordan, Pascal McConnell, Brian McGuigan, Enda McGinley, Owen Mulligan and the late Cormac McAnallen.

“It’s been a long career and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Hopefully it will last another while.”

But with age he has become acutely aware of the competition for places and the need to maintain a high level of performance.

“Niall McKenna is fast, and he can also jump the highest as well, so it’s not easy at training. And there’s also Aidan Cassidy and Colm Cavanagh, who are all pushing for their place in midfield.

“But it’s good for you, especially as you get older, because it keeps you on your toes. If you slack and if you start playing poorly, you’re on the bench, and that’s it.

“I have learned that the hard way. I started the 2008 championship, first round, had a poor game, then got injured in the replay, and then never really made it the rest of the season because the team was playing so well.

“You learn the hard way at times, but it’s a good learning curve for you, because you know you have to keep on your toes.”

One Monaghan player who will not be facing the Red Hands, however, is ace attacker Tommy Freeman, who has moved to the USA for work. Hughes shares a friendship with the Magheracloone man and sympathises.

“It’s definitely a very tough choice to have to make. I know Tommy, I played with him in the Compromise Rules in 2003 and would have been very friendly with him since.

“This past few seasons, him and his brother have been out on their own working as joiners, and they were finding it very hard.

“I suppose for one season or two seasons you could maybe cope with it, but once you get older, and have more responsibilities, it’s very hard financially to stay at home when the work’s not there.

“And when a lucrative offer appears from across the water, it’s tempting. It’s unfortunate for Tommy and for Monaghan because he’s a great footballer.”

Tyrone’s teak-tough midfielder expects Monaghan to adopt a positive, attacking approach on Sunday.

And while the Farney men have had their difficulties, with the loss of a raft of players, the departure of manager Seamus McEnaney and relegation from Division One, he insists they will be formidable opponents.

“Things have been tough for Monaghan since last year, with Banty going, a new manager coming in, and then a few boys retiring, and then Tommy Freeman going away.

“But when you look at their league performances, they would be pretty happy with them.

“The results didn’t go their way, but they had a couple of great games with Cork and Dublin, and they seem to be playing a more fluent style of football.

“They’re attacking more and they seem to be expressing themselves more.

“They were relegated from Division One, and we were in Division Two and didn’t get promotion, so you could compare the teams and say that we’re pretty matched. We’ll both be playing Division Two next year.

“But Monaghan are a hardened team, they have a lot of experienced players and they have been freshened up this year with a lot of new talent coming through as well, mixing well with Dick Cerkin and Paul Finlay and the like of those boys.”

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