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FAMILY values translate easily into
football values for Daniel Hughes

Danny Hughes
Photo by L McNally

By Terry McLaughlin

Down Democrat

He knows that when he takes the field on Sunday in Breffni Park his extended family members will be there in the crowd supporting him and supporting the rest of the Down players.

There is no premium that can be placed as far as the Down scoring sensation is concerned, on having that kind of support.

And he wants as many Down supporters as possible to come out on Sunday and make the long trek to the heartland of Cavan football.

"We know it will be tough on Sunday. And we know that there is a long journey involved. But the support of the Down fans in Casement was magnificent. They never lost faith in us as a team and if they come out in numbers, as they always do, it will help the entire Down football family."

It was those family values and the fundamentals of family life instilled into the Down corner forward that helped him focus on developing his football career.

He has a commitment, total and absolute, to family and friends and community and team. It means a lot to Daniel Hughes.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it means everything to the Down corner forward. One of the basic formulas of life is that that the more you work at things, the more energy you channel into your objectives, the more things eventually slot into place.

The 22-year-old accountancy student has had to work hard at being able to place himself in a position to achieve his goal.

But he always knew what his objectives were. As a little toddler growing up in and around the town land of Saval outside Newry Daniel Hughes made his mark on his community.

He was a well-known figure. Football even then was an all-consuming passion. Clutching his father's hand he knew the answers to questions that were of crucial importance in a football mad community. "Who do you support? Who are you going to play for?" The answers were always the same. The team was always the same from the little three-year old. "Down."

But there were times when he went through Primary School and then the Abbey CBS in Newry when it needed all the reserves of resolve that resonated through every fibre of Daniel Hughes' body.

"As a youngster I was very small. I was tiny in fact. It didn't matter too much when I was at Primary school but the more I went up through the ranks at the Abbey the difference in physique made a huge difference.

"You were playing against lads that had the strength of big men. Of course you felt it when you were always the smallest player, the one that the opposition thought they could knock about.

"It was worse when it got to the Minors. I knew that before I even went out on the pitch for a trial run out that I wasn't going to count.

"It wasn't a matter of skill or application. It was just that I looked so frail."

A stint of just ten minutes in a single trial game was the sum total of the involvement by Hughes with the Down Minors.

That team, back boned by Benny Coulter and Mickey Walsh went on to contest and win Ulster as well as All Ireland honours.

As that squad evolved into a Croke Park unit all the Saval player could do was watch and wonder at what might have been. It was, he admits, "depressing at times."

But it was the encouragement that came from his parents, Gerard and Imelda and his brothers, Jonny and Gareth that helped him going.

And additional advice from his Uncle, Peter Trainor, full forward in the Armagh team that won Ulster honours back in 1977, also played a considerable part in keeping the young Saval player firmly focussed on the bigger football frame.

"They helped me believe that I would eventually get my chance.

"Not making the Minors did hurt. Looking back however it just made me stronger. It could have made or broken me.

"I am not saying I am anywhere near making it but I can say that those setbacks never came close to breaking me."

Between 19 and 20 a late surge in growth helped the corner put on the extra inches and muscle to be a challenger for a county place.

Again however there were other sets back that had to be overcome before the resilience of Daniel Hughes was rewarded.

A leg injury 18 months ago in the Down Intermediate Football final ruled him out of football for three months.

Again however the ability to take positives from a negative underlined the character that is central to Hughes.

"In many ways it was the best thing that happened to me. It let me work away on the weights in the gym and build up my body strength."

It was that kind of single-minded determination, linked to his blistering pace and instinctive finishing which made Paddy O'Rourke draft Hughes into the Down squad at the start of last season.

The experience of being part of the Down set-up has not restricted the way in which Hughes' plays his free flowing game.

"The manager and the coaches, as well as the senior players, give us every encouragement to express ourselves.

"They want us to play attractive and attack minded football."

There are certain styles of play and there are certain kinds of player that can be immediately classified as being of a certain heritage.

When Daniel Hughes responds to a question about how nervous he might be about facing Cavan in the first round replay of the Ulster Championship, his response sums up the special pedigree that comes with package that is Down football.

It was that pedigree that helped Hughes set Casement Park alight with a performance that was electrifying as it was elegant in the construction and collection of four magnificent points from play in the drawn game.

It is neither arrogant nor dismissive or remotely disrespectful to the opposition that will be provided by Cavan on Sunday afternoon.

"Why should I be nervous? I am playing for Down. We have been coached and prepared for this game over many weeks and months.

"We know what we are capable of doing as a team.

"The one thing I have learned in my short time with Down is that you always respect the opposition. "But you make sure that they are nervous about Down."

Winning football games is as much about the values of positive mental attitude as physical power. And in Daniel Hughes Down has a player that brings a value-added dimension to the product of championship football.

It is a quality that can never be quantified in either height inches or weight poundage, but only through heart size.



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