He’s attended a couple of these get-togethers before — 2011 and last year. Enough to know the drill: you tell your Antipodeans the extent of your commitments as an amateur and they express astonishment.
He’ll politely ask the AFL player sitting beside him about his career but the professional sportsman’s life is something Hughes is familiar with. Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Aaron McCarey is a good friend and a Scotstown club-mate. McCarey too shakes his head at what is asked of top level Gaelic footballers compared to his day job.
“I’ve friends in professional soccer. They laugh at the amount of training we have to do compared to them. He (McCarey) does two, three hours every day. Then he’s home with the feet up. He was a Gaelic player with our club. A county minor for three years. Banty (Seamus McEnaney) had him in the senior set-up for a while. He’s a Gaelic man at heart. Mick McCarthy took over to Wolves when he was there, gave him the chance to go and play. That’s nearly five years now.”
But Hughes too appreciates the dark side of McCarey’s vocation. Earlier this week, David Moran, with Tommy Walsh in mind, spoke of the difficulties of the pro life. The loneliness, the boredom, the difficulties when form and injury go against you in a most cut-throat business.
“He (McCarey) does not get lonely, but it’s tough,” says Hughes. “He’s finished at one or two o’clock in the afternoon and you’re idle. He tends to stay on at training, or go to the gym. He lives on his own – he’s not in the youth scheme anymore – he’s a full pro. So he’s own man. It’s seen as the be-all and end-all to be a professional player.”
Then there’s the scare story provided by former Liverpool and England goalkeeper David James who last weekend declared himself bankrupt.
“Divorce cost him big so the key is not to get married!” Hughes smiles. “He’s in India, probably on a healthy wage, but to think he’s earned £20m or 30m over the last 20 years and has nothing to show for it…”
At 22, McCarey is the second choice ‘keeper at Wolves and Hughes’ friend knows how close he is to a breakthrough. “(He) would like to be pushing on further but he realises there aren’t too many 21-year-old goalkeepers playing first team football in the 96 league clubs. He has to cut his teeth. He’s on the fringes of the Ireland squad.”
Professionalism is something the likes of Paul Galvin and Eugene McGee believe is the slow training coming in inter-county Gaelic games. Hughes isn’t as convinced. He and other players he spoke to were “astounded” when they saw McGee claim some managers were getting paid €40,000 a year.
“I don’t think it’s financially viable to pay a squad an industrial basic wage. There is perks in county football, depending on what county you are from. As you go up the ladder, you get the cheques here and there and it’s nice.
“But professionalism, I don’t see it. Especially in my era. I don’t see it as financially viable. You can’t pay your top forward €40,000 and your sub corner-back €10,000.
“I don’t think there is any provision in the GAA for that.
It’s not a game of the haves and have-nots for Hughes. Dublin may have spanked Monaghan in the All-Ireland quarter-final but he’s not put off talking about winning major titles by talk of them as the Chelsea of the GAA.
“If you had have asked me two years ago, I’d probably have said, ‘Get me an Ulster championship medal and I’d be happy.’ But that was 2013. It’s gone, forgotten. We wanted to progress this year but we didn’t.
“We wanted to get beyond an All-Ireland quarter-final and ultimately we failed. So it is back to the grindstone next year.”
Seeing Donegal beat Dublin in the following game provided him with plenty of encouragement. “People were saying to us two weeks previously, ‘you’re a 100 miles from the Dublins of this world’.
“But we wouldn’t see ourselves as 100 miles away from Donegal and Donegal overturned Dublin.”
Paul Earley isn’t perturbed about Ireland’s record in warm-up games as they prepare to face a Victorian Football League side in Melbourne tomorrow. Their last build-up fixture in Australia was in 2003 when Declan Browne was ruled out of the series after a dangerous tackle in Perth. In 1999, Graham Geraghty also became embroiled in controversy when he made an alleged racist comment towards a 17-year-old opponent during a pre-series challenge in Melbourne.
Speaking after a light training session at Wesley School on the St Kilda Road in Melbourne yesterday, Earley said the pros of a warm-up game far outweigh the cons.
“I think the fact that there’s only one Test means it’s a necessity. There’s a lot of new players in the squad who have not played this game before competitively. It’s all very fine tuning in the last number of weeks among ourselves but we need to play against Australian Rules players so that the players understand the instinct in the game sense of an Australian Rules player. It was invaluable to us last year when we played against a VFA amateur team in advance of the first test.
“The fact it’s a one-off Test this year means it is crucial, not only for the new players but the ones who played last year. It’s a year since they played competitively and just to get the pitch of the game and play as close to our best. There’s always a risk that you’ll pick up injuries but you balance that, it’s a trade-off.”
As for what challenge his side will face, Earley said: “The reality is that Australian Rules, like Gaelic football, has developed into more of a possession game in the last 10 years. There’s a lot less of the big hits now, the last two series were played in a good spirit and I’d expect the same this year. The VFL are putting a strong, All Star team out so they’ll be keen to impress and win. We hope it will be competitive.”