RYAN MCHUGH HAD just turned 20 when he put 2-2 past the Dubs in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. 

Dublin haven’t lost a championship game since and at 25 McHugh is now one of the seasoned campaigners in the Donegal squad.

Nothing brought that fact home more than when Declan Bonner invited promising young forward Oisin Gallen to train with the seniors over the winter. 

“Oisin is a great lad,” McHugh says. “He’s been phenomenal for Donegal this year. The boys were joking there one day that he was born in 2000.

“He’s the first boy into the panel who was born in 2000 so it’s bad when he’s making me feel old. 

“He’s been great, he’s really pushing for a spot in the championship team which is great.”

The Sean MacCumhaills club man has long been touted as a potential star after shining in Donegal’s underage system.

Gallen announced himself on the national stage with a four-point haul in the Division 2 final win over Meath in March.

With Paddy McBrearty returning from a cruciate lay-off, Jamie Brennan in good form, talisman Michael Murphy being employed closer to goal in addition to Gallen’s emergence, the Donegal attack has a menacing look to it.

Oisin Gallen made his debut for Donegal during the league.

Source: Evan Logan/INPHO

“He played minor and U16 for Donegal growing up. He’s a top player. Again, as I said, Donegal have top players coming through. 

“It’s trying to bring them through and nourish them and put situations in place where they’re fit to produce their best performances on any given day.” 

McHugh was forced to sit out 10 weeks at the end of last season after suffering four knocks to the head in 2018 – three during the league and one in club action for Kilcar. 

The 2018 All-Star winner admits he’s thought about changing his game to avoid taking anymore knocks to the head.

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

“I get asked that question a lot recently. Talking to dad not that long ago on this about changing styles and different stuff, trying to change the way I play football. It’s easy sitting around a table saying, you should do this and should do that.

“When you’re in the middle of a championship battle it’s a different story. I think there is small aspects of my game I can change – maybe kick the ball a wee bit more or run without the ball, stuff like that.

“Overall it’s hard to dramatically change the way you play football in a short period of time. I picked up concussions, thankfully that’s all the injuries I’ve had to date. Touch wood I don’t pick up many more.

“There’s not many footballers, or players in any sport, that don’t go through their career without picking up some sort of injury. I’ve been fortunate enough that the only injury I’ve had to date so hopefully it stays that way.”

Donegal’s defence of the Ulster title begins with a tricky visit to Brewster Park to face Fermanagh in the quarter-final on Sunday afternoon.

They’ll face former manager Rory Gallagher, who has employed a defensive system to the Ernesiders.

Donegal have moved forwards more attacking football since Bonner took charge and McHugh says they’ll still try to play a positive style this weekend.

“Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to look at the opposition every day you go out but I think the way football is gone now, it’s really about yourself, how you perform as a team.

“Throughout the year you’ll be working on different sort of things to try and break down oppositions based on the way they play but I think as a whole, in the year you have to come up with the way you want to play and try and produce that to the best of your ability and, hopefully, that’s enough on the day.”

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:

Click Here: USA Rugby Shop