Donegal and Cavan lock horns on Sunday to determine who reins kings of Ulster for 2019. The Tir Chonaill men enter the contest as favourites as they prepare to retain the title they captured this time last year. Cavan on the other hand may lead the roll of honour with 37 titles in their history, but must go back to 1997 for the last time the Breffni Blue streamers hung from the Anglo Celt.
Donegal’s three time Ulster championship winner Mark McHugh will watch on from the line after stepping away from the county panel at the end of 2018. “I just made a decision and I met with the management in September or October just to suss everything up and just to see where I was at, I’ve a business in Donegal myself and I’ve a wee boy now so I’m just tied with work. I stepped away; I had 9 or 10 years playing football so I just stepped away and thought it would be better for myself”.
McHugh sees his county gaining their 10th ever crown although admittedly will miss not being a part of it “when it comes to this time of year obviously you miss being out on final day but you don’t miss being out in January and February. I have a soft spot for Cavan myself having been up there for a few years so it’ll be a battle, there’ll be a lot of colour around Clones and I think everyone is really looking forward to it”.
McHugh looked on eagerly during Donegal’s division two campaign which saw them gain promotion to the top tier for 2020 while not always performing to their potential. “I watched Donegal a lot this year and I was disappointed at the start of the league, we had a lot of defeats that wouldn’t be common within Donegal”.
“We lost away to Tipperary, we lost at home to Fermanagh and only for Michael Murphy coming on against Meath we would have struggled, also against Armagh but definitely in the last number of games, I saw them against Kildare and I was very impressed with them then obviously the league final against Meath when they started slow but finished strong so I think being in the position in that changing room they would have focused on from day one, on that Tyrone game, and it proved a good strategy”.
The Kilcar man pointed to Donegal’s imperial leader and captain Michael Murphy to direct his team to another Ulster title with his inspiration performance guiding them through the semi final, “He’s huge, there’s so much talk about him but you can’t justify it until you actually know the man and know exactly what he brings”.
“The professionalism he brings within the squad rubs off on so many players, the way he conducts himself and especially for the younger players coming in, to see the way he trains and lives his life, it’s so easy for them to copy him and in them big games when you need a man to come to the fore he’s rarely found wanting”.
After the demolition of Tyrone many have now tipped Donegal as the team with the most weapons to deal with Dublin’s ‘drive for five’, which could possibly bring about a sense of complacency inside the Donegal squad, a fear that has been circling the county for the past two weeks, while Cavan will undoubtedly be up for the battle.
“That’s the big talk around Donegal this week actually, that fear of complacency slipping in but I feel there’s enough experience in that squad and in the management team to overcome that. We were caught badly in 2013 after winning the All Ireland and Monaghan were far hungrier than us on the day and they gave us a real good shock that day and they were by far the better team. With the older players, especially like Neil McGee and Michael Murphy Frank McGlynn, Leo McLoone, these kind of lads will have learned from them kind of days”.
“Karl Lacey is involved in the backroom team and he was playing at that stage so I don’t think they’ll let that creep in and especially the performance Cavan gave against Armagh the second day out, they’ve shown they’re a real force to be reckoned with and they’re (Donegal) are going to get nothing easy”.
“I was actually up in Cavan last week and their very confident up there; they would have seen Donegal all year and might not have been so impressed with them and they might be saying, “That one day against Tyrone might have been a wee glitch so they’re there for the taking”. So they’re really confidant and definitely if there’s any team in Ulster that’s going to be up for a match, for an Ulster final especially, it’ll be Cavan”.
Of course there is also the chance that Cavan could freeze on the big stage, a real possibility according to McHugh, “I was chatting to Rory Gallagher a few weeks ago and he total feels that last year in the Ulster final that with Fermanagh the occasion got to them as not many of their players had been in that environment before and that could happen to Cavan”.
When asked for a predication McHugh couldn’t look past his native county as he feels they have too many problems for Cavan to solve, a feeling felt throughout the country since the Tyrone game, “If Donegal repeat the same performance they had against Tyrone I fully expect them to win”.
“I would say even if Cavan curtail the Murphy’s, the Brennan’s, the McBrearty’, you’d expect that there’s other players that will stand up for Donegal. The last day Tyrone marked what they thought were the bigger players but the not so big names stood up like Jamie Brennan and Eoin Ban Gallagher, Ryan McHugh, Stephen McMenamin, Hugh McFadden so Donegal have a good squad there at the minute”.
“They’ve lads to come off the bench like young Oisin Gallan, he dislocated his shoulder about 6 or 7 weeks ago and he was flying through the league so he’s another man they can call on so they have an array of talent there in Donegal at the minute. As long as they don’t get that complacent, and I personally feel that they won’t, I feel Donegal are going to win by 2 or 3 points but again the way Ulster finals go, they could be so hyped up that the occasion will pass them”.