Mark McHugh keen to learn lessons of narrow escape against dogged Down
Donegal star not impressed with the blasé attitude of the All-Ireland champions’ supporters
Mark McHugh: “It definitely was as tough a game as we’ve had. A grinding battle.”
It was arguably their least impressive performance in the Ulster championship in three years, and exactly what Donegal needed ahead of their quest to win three titles in succession – or at least in changing the “attitude” of their supporters.
It doesn’t matter whether Monaghan or Cavan come through to face them in the final on July 21st, because either way, the All-Ireland champions will start as hot favourites. But maybe now, says forward Mark McHugh, the Donegal supporters won’t be as blasé about the challenge that awaits.
“I didn’t like the attitude of the Donegal supporters during the week at all,” says McHugh, reflecting on Sunday’s three-point win over Down. “Everybody I was meeting on the street, they were just assuming that we were going to win the game easy. It’s not like that in football. Especially with the class of that Down. But our supporters just took it for granted that we would win.
“We knew exactly the battle that we were going to come up against, we stood up to that, and we came out on top. We might not be totally happy with the overall performance, and in the second half it was point for point, and we just got the few extra scores that mattered.”
Indeed had Down taken a few more of their chances, shown greater belief from the start, then Donegal might well have been staring down the barrel of the qualifiers: “It definitely was as tough a game as we’ve had,” adds McHugh, “a grinding battle. Down, fair dues to them, they came out with all guns blazing. They were going to contain our forwards as best they could . . . .”
The difference, according to McHugh, was Donegal’s composure (instilled by manager Jim McGuinness and his able lieutenant Rory Gallagher), and the experience that comes with being bagging two Ulster titles, and being All-Ireland champions:
“That brings a wee bit of experience, that stood to us in the second half. Any opportunity Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy got at all they put it straight over the bar, gave a wild boost to us at the back. And maybe there was a wee lack of composure from Down.”
But Down’s performance will likely have given other counties some hope Donegal can be mastered.
In their quest to emulate Armagh (the last county to win three Ulster titles in a row), Donegal will watch keenly as Cavan face Monaghan this Saturday evening.
“Jim will go up next week and watch it, and I am sure he’ll outline whatever we have to do to beat Monaghan or Cavan. I’m sure that it is going to be an enthralling final, a terrific atmosphere, and may the best team to win.”