Ryan McHugh in action against Jonny Cooper in August

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

IT WAS AGAINST Dublin that Ryan McHugh burst to prominence, bagging a brace of goals in that seismic victory for Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final

Source: Ar an taobh líne/YouTube

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He found the net again against Dublin in August, once more in front of the Dublin hordes in Hill 16.

Ryan McHugh raised a green flag for Donegal against Dublin in August.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Yet this was a different Dublin force Donegal were facing. In 2014 those McHugh goals spooked Dublin and they never regained their composure thereafter.

In 2016 the concession of a McHugh goal only proved to be a momentary setback for Dublin. They responded by closing out the game in a clinical fashion.

“I think they’re a lot more smart, a lot more streetwise,” reflects McHugh.

“They’re just getting more experienced, they know how to win games. They’re such a good team with experienced players all over the pitch. Just runners coming from everywhere.

“You go out and you have to mark six forwards, it’s hard to leave men free. You don’t realise until you actually play against them.

“In 2014 it’s hard to know, if Diarmuid Connolly finishes the goal then we could be talking about a completely different thing. Football is thin margins.

“Dublin are definitely the number one team in Ireland at the minute, the team that everyone in Ireland is trying to beat, they’re trying to knock them off the perch.

“I read somewhere that Sir Alex Ferguson, he said that every team when they play United it’s like a cup final.

“Teams in Ireland are facing Dublin now and it’s a cup final, it’s the biggest match when you’re playing the Dubs.

“From the Dublin point of view, it is phenomenal what they’re doing. I know when I came into the Donegal panel first in 2013, when you win something it’s hard to get back up.

“They’re a phenomenal (team), they’ll definitely go down as one of the best teams ever to play the game.”

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The off season has brought an ebb and flow to the Donegal panel. They’ve lost Colm McFadden and Eamonn McGee to retirement.

But there’s a wave of young talent enveloping their squad while Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey are sticking around for an assault on the 2017 campaign.

“It’s great, these boys aren’t extremely old,” says McHugh of the latter pair.

Ryan McHugh will be part of the UUJ setup this year

Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

“They’re only 31 or 32, so they’re not definitely past their sell by date yet. It’s great to have them back.

“Even for the young lads coming in, it’s great to have experienced figures about the dressing-room.

“That’s the way it goes, football, it goes in cycles, so it does. The younger lads are coming in now and they’ll be enthusiastic and they’ll be raring to go.”

McHugh will have another football assignment to write in his diary early in the New Year. His Jordanstown team were yesterday pitched against Garda College or Cork IT in the Sigerson Cup draw.

The team is managed by his father Martin and they will be hoping to build on last week’s Ryan Cup success.

Source: HE GAA/YouTube

“A good match against DCU in the final, tough conditions. It was a great match, a funny match, both teams could have won it. It went to extra-time and we just got the goal at the right time and pulled away.”

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