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Legends: Martin McHugh, Part 2

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The GAA Museum Legends Tour Series has returned to Croke Park for a fifth season, and this Saturday it's the turn of Donegal icon Martin McHugh to look back on his famous career.

Martin made his debut for Donegal in 1980, and went on to win three Ulster titles with the county, in 1983, 1990 and 1992, as well as picking up two GAA All Stars in that period.

His most famous day came later on in that summer of 1992 of course, when he played a crucial role in bringing the Sam Maguire Cup back to Donegal for the first, and so far the only time, in the county's history.

Fittingly, the day after Martin's Legend's Tour this Saturday, his son Mark will be a crucial part of the Donegal team looking to get back to the All-Ireland final for the first time since 1992, when they play Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday.

After his successful playing career with Donegal, Martin went on to manage Cavan, guiding the county to what remains their only Ulster crown since 1969. As a result of that success, Martin is arguably as revered in the Breffni County as he is in Tír Chonaill.

Click here for information on how to book for Martin's Legends Tour.

This is Part 2 of an exclusive interview GAA.ie conducted with Martin this week. Part 1 can be found here.

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GETTING THERE

McEniff was back in 1990. He took over in 1990 and we won the Ulster title. We beat Armagh. Now we were lucky enough to beat Armagh in that final.

Tom Conaghan in fairness, trained us very very hard. We were very fit in 1989. We got a very high level of fitness that year. Pure physical hard training, hey. We trained very, very hard. That was what was done that time, I mean the great Kerry team, what did they do only ran and ran and ran, so it was basically the same as that. It was sheer hard physical running.

Then in 1990 there came along another group of players from the 1987 U21 team, that won the All-Ireland. Players from that 1987 team came along then by '90, and that made the difference then. That gave us that other lift we needed so it was a bunch of the 1982 U21 team, a few players in between and then the 1987 team that got us over the line, another bunch of good young footballers that were all about winning.

'WHERE WAS YOUR FAMOUS MARTIN MCHUGH TODAY?'

Meath beat us in the All-Ireland semi-final in 1990. That was a bad day. It was the only day I was ever really taken off for Donegal because I was playing poorly. It was one of them games.

Kevin Foley picked me up. It was one of them games where the game just bypassed me. I never got into the game, I don't exactly know what happened. You see, the half-forward line, maybe our midfield was doing well that day and sometimes when the midfield does well your half-forward line is bypassed. The three of us were taken off that day, Joyce, me and James (Martin's brother) so it wasn't a great day for the McHugh family.

I always remember coming back from that day, I stopped in Cavan on the way back. I was in a wee restaurant in Cavan and some fella came over and said "Where was your famous Martin McHugh today?" He didn't even know who I was! "McHughs let you down today" or something like that he says, and I was just sitting there. And, I suppose, I tell you now, that was Sunday night I came home and I just didn't go out of the house. Monday I was in terrible shape, the same on the Tuesday.

I felt I had let the county down and let myself down and everybody down and I didn't know was I ever going to get another chance again. And then Mark was born on the Wednesday. That helped me a lot. It gave me a bit of lift back. But I was really, really down in the dumps now before that, it was a bad few days.

I took football very seriously. Maybe too serious at times. I had a wild passion for it, and I just felt, it wasn't that Kevin Foley marked me tight or anything else like that. It was just that the game, for some reason, just bypassed me completely, and that was just the way it was. It was interesting that the whole half-forward line were taken off.

Then two years later we came up against the Dublin half-back line, which was at the time probably classed as the best half-back line around and everybody was saying we were going to flop again and just lucky enough we got that chance to redeem ourselves. The three of us had big games that day and that's the way football goes.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

We were in the Ulster final in '89, '90, '91, '92 and '93. In 1989 we lost the final after a replay, in '90 we won it, then in 1991, Down hammered us.

Down gave us an awful hiding, and I thought coming down the hill that day that I would never walk that hill again. I was sure it was all over. The only thing that gave us a lift later on was that that Down team went on to win the All-Ireland and beat Kerry and beat Meath well. And we just felt then there was a chance then again.

DARKEST HOUR BEFORE DAWN

At the start of 1992, the lowest point we ever were at as a team was when Monaghan beat us in a McKenna Cup game and I remember coming back from that game, and the whole thing was just, everybody was down and we just had gone as low as we could.

Then we got to the league quarter-final against Dublin and they beat us with two late goals. I think it was 3-6 to 1-10 or something like that. We had them beaten and they just hit us with late goals, so that gave us the lift.

Now we were lucky with the draw, and no disrespect to Cavan, because we were playing them in the first round, and we were very lucky to get out of Breffni.

It looked like at the start of that game that Fintan Cahill was going to beat us on his own. That was the day Damien O'Reilly got his famous point, and that ball could as easily have ended up in the net as it did over the bar and we would have been out.

I think after that draw then, we played Cavan in the replay in Ballybofey and we got over the line. We beat them well enough, and then it was Fermanagh in the semi-final. So really and truly the only game we had to get ourselves up for was the Ulster final.

Down had been beaten by Derry in a great game in the Marshes that year. I was up at it. It was a wet day, and Down never play well in wet conditions. I always say "Down like a dry ball." That day was a wet day. Richard Ferris, who is now a coach in the Ulster council, got the goal that day. It was actually the first day I ever really saw Tohill play.

And we knew we had a better chance of beating Derry in the final than we had of beating Down, and then the way the Ulster final went, it just went right for us. In the second half, things worked out well. We had John Cunningham, I thought harshly sent off, but we beat Derry after a struggle and got over the line.

BREAKING THE SEMI-FINAL JINX

So we beat Derry anyway in that final, and next up was Mayo in the semi-final. The one thing we did say was that if we could get over the semi-final, we'd win the final.

Donegal have a very bad record in semi-finals. At that stage, we'd never won a semi-final. We were beaten in 1972, 1974, 1983 and 1990. We'd never won an All-Ireland semi-final. But we always said that because of that, we had never lost a final. So if we got to the final, we were very confident that we were going to win the final.

And that's why we were so nervous in the semi-final. It was just that game to get over that hurdle. So lucky enough we met a Mayo team that wasn't going well at the time and came out of maybe winning an easy enough Connacht championship. We beat them, but it could have gone either way and we just about got over the line. That's the day Manus Boyle came off the bench and scored the frees and that and did well.

There were nerves there about getting over the line, and there was this fear there about being beaten in All-Ireland semi-finals all the time. It was a big relief off our shoulders. I always remember, we got a penalty at the end and my young fella still asks me about why did I put the penalty over the bar? And people still say it to me "You should have buried it in the net."

But I knew we were leading by three points at that stage, because the referee Tommy Sugrue had told me it was the last kick of the game anyway, so I kicked it over the bar and I went jumping mad afterwards. It was just a relief. I just never did that before in my life, jumping like that.

I didn't even do it in the All-Ireland final. Just a relief of knowing we had won a semi-final and we were in the final, and we had a chance to play on the biggest day. I just jumped like mad afterwards, just to make sure it was over, because Tommy Sugrue had told me the game was over, so I did it so he couldn't change his mind!

CROWNING THE KING OF DONEGAL

We believed then that we were going to win the final. We had a set of team meetings, and at them we would all just say "We're going to win this final."

We just felt ourselves..we knew from watching each other, at training and everything else, that this was a good bunch of footballers. Now the semi-final was such a bad game, that nobody gave us a chance in the final.

The other thing was that all people talked about was tickets and tickets and tickets in Donegal. Nobody talked about the game, which was great. It took the pressure completely off the players. Because I think everybody just wanted to be up for the day. They didn't believe deep down that this Donegal team was going to win it because Dublin were such raging hot favourites going into it. But you know, it's just one of them things. Football is always on the day.

But definitely, we knew. Like, the players ourselves, we used to go down to a corner of the field and we'd close our eyes and visualise Molloy going up them steps. First we'd imagine ourselves sitting down on the field looking at Tommy Carr picking up the cup. And then we'd say: "Well hold on, we want to watch Molloy, we want to crown Molloy King of Donegal. We want to close our eyes and imagine him going up them steps and lifting that cup."

We had that belief, and the belief was there. Definitely yeah, there was no doubt about it. We felt very confident, and every player will tell you the same thing. We all knew we were good footballers. If you look through the whole team, they were all good footballers. Naturally talented footballers. And you had a lot of players who had won things.

So I just think that way we felt very confident in ourselves. I don't know where it came from but I think we just all figured out that we were going to win our own battles.

MOTIVATION

Some people ask me: "Where did you get your motivation from?"

It's funny, but I remember Liam Hayes wrote an article in the Sunday Press, which was going that time. And me and James and John Joe Doherty and Noel Hegarty happened to be going into the hospital the night before the final, on the Saturday night. Other lads went to the dogs. But we went into the hospital in Dublin anyway to see a fella called James Thomas McNulty, from our parish, a big GAA man. He was in hospital in Dublin.

And we called in to see him in hospital that night. McEniff had said to us "Don't read the papers or anything else" but I happened to pick up the Sunday Press, it used to come out early in Dublin. And there was this article from Liam Hayes that questioned me, questioned that I would probably flop the following day. He was going back to that Meath game we lost in 1990 that I spoke about earlier.

I was glad I lifted that paper. Because that article really motivated me. It was one of the things where I just said: "Look at, this is my chance. I have to do it." Not just to prove him wrong, but that was this word out there, and I wanted to prove I was capable of doing it. So that was where I just happened to read it by pure chance. If I hadn't gone into the hospital I would never have seen it. It didn't do me any harm.

COOL AND CALM

You could sense it in the hotel before the match, the confidence. There was a very relaxed atmosphere about the whole thing.

How relaxed we were that morning. We were out in Finnstown House in Lucan in Dublin where there were no supporters at all, no GAA fans. It was all Americans about it who didn't even know what the whole thing was about. It was great.

Just walking about and having the craic. Nobody to bother us. I remember we got a big photograph before we left the place. A whole team photograph with us all wearing our suits and our jackets and slacks. That was before we even left.

And I remember, I'd always go for a kick on the morning of games and I went out on the lawn myself that morning on my own just kicking a ball and messing about.

THE APPEARANCE OF NERVES

I missed a free very early on in the game. Before that everyone was taking frees, but I just said, right, I'll take the frees and I missed the first one. And then Declan Bonner started taking them, and he scored them, and Manus scored them, and I'm not going to say I was nervous because I wasn't. I felt great at that time, but it was just from the point of view of...I think it looked like I was nervous from that free.

I just noticed then that we started panicking a wee bit and we started kicking long ball into the forward line, and everyone was doing it for a while. And it looked bad for a while, we did struggle for the first 10 or 15 minutes. But it was when we started running at Dublin, which we talked about doing, when we changed our whole game. And in fairness, it was a ball that Anthony Molloy got out on the sideline, and he didn't kick it long. He kicked it short up the sideline to Declan Bonner, and the first point came off that. A short ball.

We had been trying to kick ball in when we did panic a bit. And we did panic a bit, and I blame myself for it because it looked like I had started nervously, with that missed free. And it rubbed off on the rest of them a bit.

But then when we settled, it was ok. Then there was a period at the end of the first half when we scored four or five points in a row, and that was probably the best football ever played by that team. We were something like 0-6 to 0-5 down, and we got four points in a row which put us a few ahead.

MARGINS

Molloy didn't lose a toss that year and we made our mind up that we'd play into the Hill in the first half. We wouldn't allow Dublin to play into the Hill. And that was a big call, to win that toss. Because I think Charlie Redmond probably would have scored the penalty if it was into the Hill.

But he was taking the penalty at the Canal End where it was all Donegal supporters behind the goals. I just think it's simple things like that go right for you. And it's interesting that Anthony Molloy didn't lose a toss all year. So maybe our luck was in.

I think he called heads all the time.

THE MOMENT OF TRIUMPH

I do recall the moments when the whistle went very clearly. You see, I was so confident that we were going to win, that I had made up my mind that I was going to get the ball at the end of the game.

People might say that's cockiness, I don't know what it is, but I kept running around after Tommy Sugrue. I was marking Tommy Sugure at the end of the game and I was saying "Come on Tommy, blow it up", "Come on Tommy boy, time's up hey" and in the end I got the ball.

But he wanted to keep the ball. The referee that time kept the ball in the All-Ireland final, but I held on and that was the tightest battle I had! Trying to hold the ball off him. But the crowd came out onto the field and the first person actually to come out to me was Patrice, my wife. And my father, who passed away in October there, Dad, he came on with Patrice, and there had been stewarts there trying to stop her. So Daddy said to the steward "You're not going to stop her" and that was it.

But I kept the ball anyway. I even had it up with me when we went up to collect the cup and everything else. And I still have it in the house. I got all the lads to sign it and all. It's there with the jersey and the togs.

But it's wild funny. You know the way there'd be different balls played with in a game? Well, there was a different ball from that final auctioned one time. But I have the ball that we finished the game with anyway.

A RUMOUR

But of course then, there was the thing with Gerry McMullan (the brother of Donegal forward Joyce McMullan). Gerry McMullan was sick at the time, he had cancer and he died the following year. But whatever way the rumour got out, somehow it was said he had died, just after we had won the final.

And the County Board had it as well. And seemingly this was 'known' beforehand, but they didn't tell the players. So anyway, we're in the dressing room afterwards and and the celebrating is great and everything, and next thing this word comes in that Joyce's brother was dead.

Joyce was called into a room on his own, and they told him that his brother had died. So it went into a real downer then. It was all about Joyce. And I was very close to him, having played all underage with him and come up together. And it was so sad for him then. It went from great joyful scenes in the dressing room to everyone just sitting down, not able to say anything.

So all I remember is, I was just getting ready to go out and we were getting ready to head back to Donegal, and we didn't know what was going to happen. So I just remember walking out the door of the dressing room and I met the sister coming in saying he wasn't dead at all. Joyce's sister came in, and she put Joyce on the phone to him, to his brother Gerry. That was the best bit of news we got all day. It was back to celebratory mood again.

We were out in the Royal Marine Hotel out there on the coast. And of course The Sunday Game was there, and sure we hadn't much time to get ready. But we went into a wee room ourselves and had a couple of drinks beforehand ourselves. So the celebrations were great, very enjoyable.

WE FELT WE SHOULD HAVE WON MORE

That was 1992, and I played to 1994. I finished in Breffni Park in 1994 against Tyrone. I damaged my medial ligament in my knee that day.

But what we'd often say was that we felt we should have won more. The team should have won more. The All-Ireland was won too late. Maybe if we had made the breakthrough earlier, I don't know. Maybe it was that football was stronger at that time.

We won two U21 All-Irelands, in 1982 and 1987, and then a senior in 1992, but with the bunch of players that was around that time, I think we should have won more, but look at, we didn't and we have to deal with what we have.

THE WILD PASSION OF MCENIFF

He was a footballer himself. The one thing I've always said about him was that he always put the right team on the field. Always had the right team on the field.

McEniff would ring every player every day. You'd be talking to him twice or three times a day. He had a wild passion. A passion for Donegal and a passion for it. Being a successful businessman himself, which is a good thing to carry, was good for the players and for everything. We had access to good hotels and all that.

But it was just his passion. Just like Jim McGuinness. Massive passion for Donegal football. That was the biggest thing. Mickey Lafferty, the selector, as well, who was very involved with that team. I played with Mickey Lafferty, who captained the team in 1983. Lafferty had a brilliant football brain. Lafferty had a really brilliant football brain and probably didn't get enough credit for 1992. He was very strong. You would always talk to Lafferty before the game and that. He would come over to you and you'd have a good chat with him about the whole thing.

Seamus Bonner as well. Bonner was a very good footballer for Donegal. A brilliant footballer. Bonner was full-forward in 1983. He was there too. All good football brains.

MOVING INTO MANAGEMENT

So I went for the Donegal job then in 1994 and didn't get it.

PJ McGowan, the present chairman, he got the job that time. It put me in a predicament in a way, because I was going to be a player manager myself, put a very strong backroom team in place and I was going to play and analyse the whole thing.

But anyway, I didn't get the job. It left me in a predicament. Because, if I played with Donegal after, and played well it was ok. But if I had a bad game or anything, people would be saying it's because I didn't get the job. So it left me in a situation where the minute I went for that job, I felt that my football career was over then, especially when I didn't get it.

BREFFNI CALLING

Now, Cavan had approached me beforehand but I just told them that the job I wanted was the Donegal job. But it so happened that the Cavan job hadn't been given out until after the Donegal job.

So Brendan Keaney approached me then afterwards and I just went down and talked to Cavan. So I took it over that year in 1994. I was appointed Cavan manager about a week after I didn't get the Donegal job.

So it's a funny thing. My last game was in Cavan, in Breffni Park. I damaged my medial ligament halfway through the second half and was taken off. I ended up in Cavan hospital, and then I ended up being back down in Breffni Park to get the Cavan job.

And I'll never forget it, I got the job anyway. And I went down to the County Board meeting. And I was saying to myself, my own county didn't want me, basically, and I was an untried manager as far as Cavan were concerned. And I got a standing ovation when I went into that room that night in the Hotel Kilmore.

I was as nervous as anything, and I got a standing ovation. Me, this untried manager and I got a standing ovation. I'll never forget that, the trust that Cavan people put in me.

'THIS IS ALL MINE'

All I knew was that the Cavan players I had played against were better players than their results, and all I needed to do was put belief in them. Men like Stephen King, Bernard Morris, Ciaran Brady, Damien O'Reilly, Fintan Cahill, Ronan Carolan, Philip Smith.

I remember the following day I went into Breffni Park, and I stood looking around Breffni and I said to myself "Well, for the next three years this is all mine."

It was like taking over a soccer team in England as far as I was concerned. This was mine. That's the way I felt. One of the nicest stadiums, we loved playing in it. I always loved playing in Breffni. I was glad, it was great.

But I was lucky. I didn't know that there was such a good bunch of young players coming through in Cavan. I didn't know that now. That was the great surprise. I didn't know anything about the likes of Dermot McCabe or Peter Reilly. Peter Reilly had played the year before but he was only young.

McCabe, Anthony Forde, Larry Reilly, Mickey Graham, Jason O'Reilly. I didn't know anything about them young players coming at all. And the first day I saw Dermot McCabe was the day of the county final. I was doing it for Northern Sound radio. They asked me to do co-commentating for that final, and the game was played in Cootehill in 1994. It was Gowna against Mullahoran, and that was the first day I saw Dermot McCabe playing. Very, very impressed with him that day.

TOTAL COMMITMENT

But you see, when I do something in football it's just everything. And that's why I've never managed a team since, because I just got a sickening of it. What I mean by a sickening is I put far too much into it.

I remember around my first day, I went down to Aughrim to watch an O'Byrne Cup game or some kind of match between Antrim and Wicklow. I don't even know what type of match it was. And then the following day I came up from that and I went to watch Longford v Westmeath the following day. I drove up home that night to Donegal, and then back down again the following day for Longford and Westmeath.

I had a passion to go and watch football. And you see, I hadn't seen them teams from the lower division playing. So I needed to look at them. That was me and football.

'I DON'T WANT GOOD LOSERS IN THIS DRESSING ROOM'

The first year was 1995. We won Division III and we were playing Derry then, who were the National League champions. Back then, the top team in Division III met the second team in Division I, or something like that there. And we ended up playing Derry in Armagh. We played the game anyway, and we were with them for long periods.

Anyway, it ended up that they beat us by a couple of points. But I was standing out on the field after the game, and I couldn't believe what I saw. I saw the older Cavan players going around clapping each other on the back saying "Well done, great game. Well done, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant."

And I was just watching this. I just could not believe it. So I got them into the dressing room and I stood up in there and that was the day I think I changed the mindset of Cavan football. I said "I don't want good losers in this dressing room."

I used better language than that. I said "Anyone who's an f-ing good loser, get out that door now. I don't want f-ing good losers, I want winners. That's what I want. That carry on that I've witnessed out there is not good enough."

I said "Yous are happy yous are getting beaten. You're no good." And I think that's the day the mindset of Cavan football changed.

So then we went to the Ulster final that year in 1995. We were beaten in the Ulster U21 final by Donegal after a replay. Then in 1996, we won the Ulster U21, and got to the All-Ireland final and were beaten by a very good Kerry team. So when I saw these young players, I knew we could win something. And the key was, they were all different.

CAVAN IS THE MOST PASSIONATE GAELIC FOOTBALL COUNTY

Look, Cavan is probably the most passionate county of gaelic football in Ireland. The thing about it was, they were all intelligent enough footballers. I remember playing against Antrim in the first game in '96, and I knew that Peter Reilly had bursting pace. So we said, the first ball we get we're going to give it to Peter Reilly and everybody else is going to get out of the way and he's going to run. So we worked it out in training and we were going do it.

And Adrian Lambe was playing that time. Wee Johnny Brady and that, and they were very intelligent footballers. So we gave the ball to Peter, Peter goes away on a solo run, straight through the centre of defence and hammers the ball in the roof of the net.

From that point of view, it was great to see these young lads. And we were unlucky against Kerry in 1996, there was a big call. The sides were level and a ball went into the full-back line, Mike McCarthy I think it was, and the ball went in between him and Jason O'Reilly, and I think Jason O'Reilly was fouled. Jason won the ball and was turned and heading for goals, there was only about a minute left in the game or so, and the referee gave a free out against him. And I think it was a big, big call.

But them lads were great players. And they were winners, which was very important. And they turned and changed the mindset of the older players.

The older fellas were just so used to getting beaten. They didn't know what winning was about, so they couldn't get over the line. I was partly to blame for that as well, because I was a part of four Donegal teams that beat them four years in a row.

1997

I had made up my mind that I was only going to do the three years. That I couldn't give any more. Early on in the year, we ended up in a relegation struggle in the league with Meath and Tyrone to see who'd go down. Meath played Tyrone, and beat them, and then we beat Tyrone.

And I remember we won that game in Dungannon. I think it was the first time they were ever beaten in Dungannon, so that's where Cavan where at. We were up there then, winning games and were able to beat teams. We were playing teams like Kerry and Cork. We played Kerry in a league game in Kingscourt, and we should have beaten them. So that's where we were at.

Now that Ulster campaign. Fermanagh in the first round was always going to be difficult. But I remember against Fermanagh, Paul O'Dowd saved me job. Fermanagh were a point ahead, and the game looked over. Liam McBarron went through on goal and kicked a bad wide. He should have put it over the bar.

But anyway, Paul O'Dowd, just as the ball was going wide, picked up the ball and took a short kick-out to Morris. Morris gave it up the field, Anthony Forde got it and he kicked the equalising point and then the ref blew the whistle and we beat them in the replay.

MEETING DONEGAL

People might say I was the happiest Donegal man that time, when Cavan beat Donegal in the 1997 Ulster semi-final, but it was difficult definitely. There were very close friends of mine playing on that team, lads like John Joe Doherty, Noel Hegarty and that were very close friends.

And in fairness, that week and that day, I always give the players in Cavan a lot of credit for that. They helped me that day a lot. They realised that I was under pressure, you know. I give them all a lot of credit, you know, King and Damien and all the lads, young and old.

So they kind of made up their mind themselves, they were going to do it. The second half in that game was probably Cavan's best performance that year. They just came of age. But it was very difficult playing Donegal. I remember going into the Donegal dressing room afterwards and what could you say? And the thing was, a lot of the lads that were playing retired after that too. And PJ McGowan stepped down after that game as well as manager.

But look at, it wasn't as common that time for outside managers to come up against their own county. And from my own point of view, I thought there was another All-Ireland in Donegal and that's why I went for that job. I thought there was another All-Ireland there, and there was a lot of good players coming too. But anyway, that's the way it worked out.

DERRY

Everyone thought Cavan were going to be hammered by Derry. But I knew they were a good bunch of players. The Derry game was tough, but as long as we stayed in the match we knew there was a chance. The goal made all the difference. That was the big score in the game. Cavan played really well, it was a good game and I knew what the players were about.

And the thing is, what you need on a football field is leaders, and we were lucky to have them. Likes of Ciaran Brady was a fabulous leader, a big leader in his own right, then you had Morris, King and McCabe. I mean King and McCabe was a very strong midfield partnership. You wouldn't mind having it at the minute.

It was interesting, but about two weeks before it we went over to Louth and we played a Dundalk club team, the team who had won the championship that year. We put out our second team and we hammered them off the field. And I just knew, the team was flying. They were like racehorses, when you looked at them they were like thoroughbred racehorses on the field. They just were right.

WE DID EVERYTHING RIGHT

Now, it's funny. In the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry, we did everything right. Paddy Rudden was a big, big help to me. Dr. Paddy Rudden. He helped me a wild lot in the preparations. We went up the week before, and we did the thing in a car. We timed it on the way up, what time would we get up there, what time would we get to the hotel, and all that.

We had it all timed and everything else. Everything was great. I just remember, when I was standing on the field and we were ready to go, looking at the team, and I just knew for some of them that the occasion was too big for them. For some of them. And there's nothing you can do about that. You try your best to prepare, but there's nothing you can do for that there.

And the massive Cavan support was unreal. And it just got to some of the younger lads. It was understandable, it was a great experience for them.

And like, Kerry players talk about it to this day, but I still think the big turning point was the penalty decision in the second half. I think if the referee had given that penalty and we had scored it, I think we could have gone on to win the game. We would have asked questions of them anyway. But anyway, that was that.

'YOU'RE LEAVING, ARE YOU?'

And after that game, I had given everything. And I never had a drink with any of the players ever, and the following day I remember, I went out to the Meadow View Pub in Cavan, and all the players were having a drink there, the whole lot. But I went out to the Meadow View anyway, and I had a drink with them and I remember Ciaran Brady saying to me, "You're leaving, are you?"

And I says "Why do you say that?" And he says "This is the first time you ever had a drink with any of us." So I didn't stay too long then, but I went out anyway.

A SPECIAL BOND

I had given it everything. But I'll always have a great time for Cavan and Cavan people. I remember going into a place in Shercock in Cavan maybe three years later, I went in to have my dinner. And I went up to pay for it and your man said "Oh no, that's on me for all the great enjoyment you gave me when you were manager of Cavan, you know."

I just always remember that. And I've made great friends in Cavan since. But like, Cavan have the most passionate supporters in Ireland. And that's why even now, when Cavan don't do well, I do be kind of annoyed myself for them because I never seen more passionate supporters anywhere in Ireland.

I remember the day I left, I was staying in the Farnham Arms Hotel, and there came a wee girl up to me, she was only 14 or 15 and she started to cry when I was leaving. And you'd never get that in other counties. That's the passion, the wild passion. But it was great, that time in Cavan. The chairman, Brendan Keaney, was a brilliant chairman. Probably the best I've ever seen in action. He was a real good football man, a good chairman.

He got things done. Everything was done right. His whole thing was Cavan football. It was always great, you know you had men like Gerry Soden and Tom Boylan too. All great football people. Passion is the word.

Like I had Donal Donoghue with me, and Mickey Reilly that time. Paddy Rudden. Like, Paddy was a great Cavan man. Great passion. Great fella, and a great football man.

AN ALL-IRELAND LEFT BEHIND?

I just had no more energy for it. I know if I had have stayed, we might have got over the line, yeah. I wouldn't disbelieve that. But it was just, my energy had gone. Even during that last year I had to take a break from it, you know. I was driving up and down, and even though we had a house there, but it was just too much.

The thing is, when I do football, and it was the same thing with my club team, where I had three years managing them and we had good success, but I just was gone afterwards. You need a break. I just couldn't go on. And like, I was offered maybe five or six different counties after I left Cavan but I never went anywhere else. Cavan is the only county team I've ever managed. I just could not get the energy for it. I just put too much into it. And I got a sickening of it then. I just didn't want it anymore, I couldn't start thinking about the following year and doing it all again. I just couldn't do it, and it wouldn't be fair on the players or fair on anybody because I just had burnt myself out.

But I think they would have been close to an All-Ireland. They were a great bunch of lads, really good lads. And they were good players. But anyway, that's it.

FULL CIRCLE

The current Donegal team are playing now this Sunday, and look, it's great. They've put a lot of pride into that team. And in this recession, there's people going around Donegal with smiles on their faces and all they want to talk about is football. It's massive now and them players have become massive.

Like, it was different in our time. When we were playing there was no word about it. But now, there seems to be a lot of young girls following football now. You know, with a real passion following it. But they really are heroes now, that's the way they are.

And what they are, and what I like about them, is they are a very modest, decent bunch of fellas, the current Donegal team. And you always like to see people like that get on. None of them are big-headed. Every one of them will talk to you and they're really down to earth lads. And even though there is a lot of hype in Donegal, they will not get carried away as a bunch of players.

They've put great pride in the county. Like, in the past, a lot of the time Donegal were talked of as being drinkers and that there, even though we were no worse than anybody else, but it's just that in such a big county, everything gets out!

But I think that's what they've done. They've really put pride back there. And whatever happens, even at the weekend against Cork, whatever happens, they've put a lot of pride back. Young lads want to play for Donegal now. And with a county like us in which soccer is very strong, and now rugby is very strong, we need this year.

Our clubs need it too because it's tough with emigration and everything else, so this is going to give our whole county a lift and everything else, the whole thing. And I mean you couldn't, but be proud of them, the way they play and they way they are performing. As I said, the big thing is they are modest, down to earth lads, and you like to see people like that do well.

MCGUINNESS

It's funny, you never know how someone will turn out. But even then (in 1992, when McGuinness was a part of the Donegal panel aged 19), at that time he was a great talker, Jim. And he made a lot of sense when he spoke at team meetings and that there and he was able to do that. And he has that quality. Like, I've always said about him, even with Mark there, I don't say much to Mark but he wouldn't even listen to me anyway, if I said to him something about a game, because everything is just covered by Jim. And Rory Gallagher there too.

But yeah, Jim is a fabulous motivator and a good fella. He leads by example and he has put a lot of pride in there. And a lot of them are leaders, which is a big thing. You can see them leading in their own clubs even, and that's a thing I think is very important in team sport now. Out on the field when things start going wrong, you've these leaders on the field. Nobody is hiding or anything else, they are all leaders.

Even Michael Murphy, if you look at Michael Murphy as captain. He has lifted his second Anglo-Celt Cup as captain and he's only what, 23? And you have Patrick McBrearty, with two Ulster championship medals in his back pocket and he wasn't even 19..

It's great for the county at the minute, but of course, it won't last forever. Things will change and that's the way it always is. But definitely it has given the county a massive lift.

MARK

My biggest worry for Mark was that he was going to be classed as Martin McHugh's son. It's very hard for sons of so-called famous footballers to make it at times. It's not easy.

And many times, he's been asked "Are you as good as your father?" But that was when he started playing. He had to establish himself, as he has done so now and now he's his own man. And the great thing about it now is there's no word of me or anything else. It's him, and he's established. That's the thing you have to do, and in fairness to him he did that.

So it is, it's great. It's great for him, but you know, football is enjoyment. Alright, it's disappointing when you get beat but look at, there are so many other things in life that are tough. So football is enjoyment too and it's great for him. And it helps him. It has helped him discipline wise and everything else. So it's good, yeah. You know, that day we played Cavan in Breffni Park earlier this year, my son Ryan was captain of the minor team and Mark was playing on the senior team. So that was a good day for the family.

It was a good day. And you see, Kilcar is like Cavan. It's passionate about football, and the fact that we had six players on the field that day, yeah definitely, there were a lot of happy Kilcar men. It's good, and long may it last.

20 YEARS ON

I'd love to see this bunch of players win an All-Ireland. Because I think the amount of work and effort they have put in, and as I said, they're good lads so I'd love to see that. And what better year to do it than 20 years after the other one?

In the years ending in 2, we've been reasonably lucky. 1972 we won the Ulster title, 1982 we won the U21 All-Ireland, and then in 1992 we won the senior All-Ireland for the first time. So maybe 2012 will be the year!

= = =

The Martin McHugh Legends Tour is on this Saturday, August 25, at 2.30pm at Croke Park.

All tours include a trip to the recently-refurbished GAA Museum, which is home to many exclusive exhibits, including the Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy Cups, as well as the new temporary exhibition ‘GAA - A Global Phenomenon’, which is now open running until Spring 2013.

Booking for the 2012 Legends Tour Series is essential as places are limited. Click here for more information.




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