Donegal are a team in transition but with the appointment of Declan Bonner as county manager for the 2018 season, the men from the north-east will be looking to get back to challenging for provincial, and even national honours, next year.
While a loss in the fourth round of the qualifiers would constitute a good season in most counties, Donegal were particularly frustrated with the manner of their defeats.
The season ultimately ended with Rory Gallagher leaving as manager as heavy losses to Tyrone and Galway. However, according to Ryan McHugh, there is enough blame to go around – and the manager shouldn’t get the brunt of it.
“The two matches last year (Galway and Tyrone) were extremely disappointing. On the day we felt we didn’t perform to the best of our ability which you have to be on any given day in a county jersey you have to perform your best and hope it goes your way.
“On those two days, we were well below par, it’s players who need to look as well, it is not just management. The manager can only pick the team and put the players out, the players have to step up and be counted and on those two given days, we didn’t do that.”
The Kilcar man is currently preparing to face Scotstown of Monaghan in the AIB club championship, however, when he finishes his club season, he is looking forward to working with Bonner.
“I haven’t really worked with Declan before. He was involved a wee bit with me as a minor but he was sort of in the background. I’m looking forward to it, Donegal have had great success over the last number of years.
“Rory (Gallagher) has done a great job with Donegal, he deserves a lot of credit for the way he took me in and progressed me and if you ask anybody in Donegal they love him and the footballers love him and that’s all that really matters.”
For now though, it is Kilcar’s first Ulster club campaign since 1993 that is front and centre in McHugh’s thinking:
“I am looking forward to the year ahead, (but) we haven’t really concentrated or thought about it much to be honest with you, because we are involved with the club but (I am) really looking forward to the county scene, getting knuckled down and try to get back to where we want to be – competitive in Ulster first and foremost.”
With the difference between success and failure so narrow, Donegal will be looking for one big effort come 2018.
“It’s such a thin margin, Gaelic football, the way it’s gone now. It can turn on anything – on a bounce of a ball or anything. It’s not easy. There’d be a lot of soul-searching after a bad defeat, and we’re going to have to do that now over the winter period with Donegal – a lot of soul-searching as players, as a group of players, together.”
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena
Ryan McHugh was speaking at the launch of the AIB Club Championships