Thursday 9 April 2015

McHugh hungrier than ever for goals in swansong season

When Athlone Town take to the pitch at Finn Park on Friday night they will be well aware of the threat posed by the home side’s veteran striker Kevin McHugh who revealed he is as hungry as ever for goals in what is his final season in League of Ireland football.

McHugh fired in a trademark effort to salvage a draw for Finn Harps against UCD last week, a result which has Ollie Horgan’s men sitting atop the First Division table, one point ahead of Friday night’s visitors to Ballybofey.

The 35-year-old has been terrorising defences across Ireland since making a goal-scoring debut for Harps in a cup match against fellow Donegal side Fanad United in August 1998 while shortly after, he broke his League of Ireland duck against Cork City.

Almost 17 years on, McHugh is still one of the deadliest finishers around and he explained that the secret behind his success in front of goal is simple - hunger.

“I think everything no matter what sport you play comes down to hunger,” he said.

“I don’t care how strong somebody is or how fit they are if you’ve got that hunger mixed with a bit of talent then it can bring you a long, long way.

“I have got the hunger to score goals and that is what keeps me going.

“I like creating and scoring goals and that is what I’ve always done and it’s what I get a buzz from.”

McHugh announced that 2015 will be his final season lacing up the boots and when those laces connected sweetly with the ball at the Belfield Bowl last Friday, they sent it flying into the top corner of the net for the 167th time in the Killea man’s League of Ireland career.

Twelve of those goals came during a spell in the red and white stripes of Derry City in the mid-2000s while McHugh also spent a season with Irish League side Linfield in 2009.

However, having bagged 106 league goals in 184 appearances during his first spell at Finn Park, McHugh returned to the North West to don the blue and white of Harps for a second spell in 2010.

Since then, the frontman has consistently found the back of the net despite the Donegal outfit’s relative struggles in recent years and he now sits behind only the great Brendan Bradley in the all-time goalscoring charts for Harps with 178 goals.

Despite his status as a club legend, McHugh is not one for getting carried away with plaudits but is instead focussed on ensuring that he enjoys every goal and every game during his final campaign.

“I think there is definitely a different buzz [this season] during every minute I play,” said McHugh, who is ninth on the all-time League of Ireland goalscoring charts while Bradley leads the way with 235 goals.

“Even travelling to different grounds you’re thinking ‘this could be the last time I play here’.
“You’re looking to play every minute the best you can and I know every player should have that mind-set anyway but it doesn’t always happen.

“In terms of [statistics] I’m not one for really keeping up-to-date but people always tell me.
“I like to look at these things when you are finished [playing].

“It’s really nice to be thought of like that [club legend] obviously but it’s hard to think about stuff like that when you are still playing.

“I’m just concentrating on getting on with business at the minute.”

Last season saw McHugh register just twice in the league in what was an injury-hit campaign but just five games into this one he has already matched that tally.

With new French signing Wilfried Tagbo and the returning Sligo Rovers loanee Ruairi Keating also registering two goals apiece in the league to date, McHugh acknowledged that his status as the elder statesman of the Harps strikeforce means that he has to manage his playing time and tailor it to suit the needs of the team.

“There’s no way at 35 that you can play week in week out and expect to be playing at the same level,” he said.

“It will be a case of starting one or two games here and there and just acknowledging my energy levels.

“I am comfortable in that role.

“I think if I wasn’t I would be no good to the team or the management.

“Rarely now do teams play with two up front all the time so I totally understand that the likes of Keating and big Wilfried would be more suitable for that kind of a role.”

“It’s about trying to get the best out of me as well.”

Harps made a similarly promising start to the 2014 campaign but ultimately ended up finishing a disappointing fifth as they finished well off the pace in the hunt for a return to the Premier Division for the first time since 2008.

Despite three wins and two draws from their opening five games of this term, the Harps players and management are not happy with performances so far according to McHugh, who said that the visit of Eddie Wallace’s side on Friday will be the toughest test of the season to date.

“Athlone have come down from the Premier Division and have kept all their experienced players,” added McHugh, ahead of the game which will be the 100th competitive meeting between the two clubs.

“We are at home so we will be expected to take the game to them.”