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'It Was A Division 3 Game. The Tipperary Fullback Was Wearing Glasses'

'It Was A Division 3 Game. The Tipperary Fullback Was Wearing Glasses'
By PJ Browne
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Martin McHugh clearly recalls his first league game with Donegal.

"It was against Tipperary in Ballyshannon," says McHugh.

"The Tipperary fullback was wearing glasses. That's the way it was at that level. It was a Division 3 game. I'll never forget it. It was at the end of '80. The games were tough. When I started playing, the league was big for us.

"Luckily enough, we ended up getting out of Division 3. We actually won the Ulster Championship out of Division 3 in '83."

McHugh, father of 2012 All-Ireland winner Mark and current Donegal player Ryan, persisted with inter-county football, and eventually won Sam Maguire with the county in 1992. He believes games they won in the league against big teams gave them the confidence required to climb Gaelic football's summit.

"In '86, '87, we ended up playing, and beating the All-Ireland champions," he says.

"We went down and beat Kerry down in Kerry in '88. That was what gave us confidence. It was the league games that gave us the confidence to realise that we could compete against these teams.


"Two years ago, I headed down to Kerry because I wanted to meet Mick O'Dwyer. I went to see Micko in Waterville, and I had a great couple of hours with him. I wanted to thank him.

"I played Railway Cup in '83, and we beat Munster in Croke Park, and he was manager. I was playing corner forward. O'Dwyer came into the dressing room after, and he gave a great speech. Then he said, 'Sure your two corner forwards, you couldn't mark them. They beat us on their own'.


"That was a big thing for me. For me Mick O'Dwyer to say that to me, I became a new man over night. The confidence I got, coming from a small area like Kilcar, where nobody has heard of you. I wanted to thank him for saying that."


26 January 2022; The Allianz Football League was officially launched this week. This is the 30th season that Allianz has sponsored the Allianz Leagues, making it one of the longest sponsorships in Irish sport. Pictured at the launch at Kilcar GAA Club is Donegal footballer Ryan McHugh, left, and his father and former Donegal footballer Martin McHugh who played in the first year of the Allianz sponsorship. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Donegal's 1992 All-Ireland title win was the county's first. McHugh believes it could have come nine years earlier.


"I always think that 1983 was the one that got away on us," he says.

"People well tell you that '90 and '14 got away, but I think 1983 got away. If Martin Carney hadn't gone to Mayo, and Finian Ward hadn't got injured the year before and retired - if those two players had been there - we'd have won the All-Ireland. We thought we'd be back the following year but we didn't get back till later on."

After retiring from inter-county football in 1994, McHugh became Cavan manager, and led them to the 1997 Ulster title. He says that "at times", he did consider getting back into inter-county management, and that one job still remains on this wish list.


"At the minute, it seems like a young man's game," says McHugh.

"I'll never say no. I still would love to manage Donegal. That's the thing I would love to do, I would love to manage my own county. I did go for the [Donegal] job in '94, the year I took Cavan, and didn't get it.

"It would be something you'd like to do. There's a bucket list there. I still would like to have a crack at Donegal."


Featured image: 4 April 1994; Martin McHugh of Donegal during the Church & General National Football League Quarter-Final match between Laois and Donegal at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

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