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‘I’m still only 33 years of age and I’m trying to learn . . . I won’t be heading to Derry’ – Mark McHugh

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The former Donegal star has now moved into coaching, working with Davy Burke in Roscommon last year before switching to Galway club Moycullen.

He dismissed any suggestion of a Derry approach in recent days – but he had sensed that Harte may not be hanging around too long, based on recent rumblings after their championship form fell off a cliff.

“I’m still only 33 years of age and I’m trying to learn as best as I can. I’m involved with Moycullen now, I’m still playing senior club football for my club [Kilcar] at home,” said McHugh, speaking at an AIB event to promote Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final between his native Donegal and Galway.

“That’s where my focus is right now and I’ve had no contact to do with Derry, I’ll be straight with that.

“But listen, I don’t know what the future holds. The way the game has gone, there’s jobs coming up all the time and it’s whatever one you think might suit you best . . . but I definitely won’t be heading to Derry.”

Asked if he was surprised by Harte’s exit, he replied: “In the long run, no – because you were hearing rumblings in the last number of months about different stuff that was going on in the camp, there’s no point lying about it.

“You don’t know if it’s true or false, but you don’t hear anything coming out of the four teams left [in the All-Ireland race], put it like that.

“So listen, probably for his own sanity he might have just thought, ‘I don’t need this in my life’ – and he decided to step away.

“Mickey Harte would make no apologies for what he’s done in the game,” the 2012 All-Ireland winner continued. “But in respect to John O’Mahony, who died this week, there’s only ever been two outside managers who have won All-Irelands in football, so does it actually bode well?

“To be fair to John O’Mahony, it was a huge achievement. Eugene McGee is the other one . . . so it doesn’t happen too often, that a manager comes in from outside and gets that All-Ireland. I know there’s been a lot of outside coaches involved, you look at Paddy Tally in Kerry, but when it comes to management it doesn’t happen.”

Closer to home, McHugh cited the example of his former manager, whose return this year has transformed the fortunes of Donegal.

“I’d look back to a Jim McGuinness, the passion that he brings to Donegal because he’s a Donegal man. It’s one of the reasons why he’s so damn good at his job, and that’s the reason why people bought in,” he ventured.

“Would that happen for a man that was from outside Donegal? I’m not sure if Jim McGuinness went to another county, would that same thing happen?

“That’s a hypothetical but that’s one of the reasons, his love for Donegal and the people of Donegal, it makes you put on that jersey and makes you want to play for that crest.”

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