SOCCER: MARK HUGHES INTERVIEW
Hughes hoping to bounce back from second successive relegation
By Daire Walsh
2015 ended in disappointment for Athy native Mark Hughes, who suffered relegation from the League of Ireland top-flight for a second successive season.
The 22-year-old played 26 times as Athlone Town finished bottom of the Premier League table last year, and he was also a regular feature in the past season for Drogheda United, as their 14th consecutive campaign in the competition finished in demotion to the First Division.
It was a very frustrating period overall at United Park, and having encountered a number of injury problems throughout the course of the year, Hughes also felt that it wasn’t a great season from a personal point of view.
“It was a bit of an experience alright. Personally, I didn’t have my best season now. I was struggling with knocks. I got a hamstring injury at the back end of last year with Athlone, and then I carried into the season with Drogheda with that,” Hughes remarked.
“I missed the whole of pre-season. I hadn’t really got match fitness, and then I was playing matches, and I was just picking up little knocks on my groin and hamstring.
“I never really felt fully fit myself. It wasn’t a great season for myself, but hopefully this year I’ll be back to full fitness.”
For much of 2015, it looked like Limerick FC were destined for automatic relegation, but a run of six games without a victory ultimately proved fatal for Drogheda. Hughes acknowledges that they had a tough run-in, but he believes that the October 23 defeat against Longford was a significant set-back.
“We knew that the run-in was going to be hugely difficult. We were looking at games targeting, and targeted the Longford game, and we ended up getting beaten. There was a real confidence knock then.”
“The Shamrock Rovers game, where we needed to win that, we actually were confident enough going into it.
“We were actually leading in the game. Then fitness kicked in, and Shamrock Rovers just got the few goals, and we were out on our feet in the end really.”
There was a significant turnover in management at Drogheda in 2015, with three different managers – Johnny McDonnell, Mark Kinsella and Pete Mahon – taking the helm at various stages. Former Republic of Ireland midfielder Kinsella took over on a caretaker basis following McDonnell’s departure in August, but because he doesn’t hold a UEFA Pro Licence, he couldn’t remain in the position after 60 days.
As a result, Mahon (who started the year as McDonnell’s assistant) was in charge for the final game of the season against Shamrock Rovers. Although this wasn’t an ideal situation for the players, Hughes revealed that he enjoyed working with Kinsella and McDonnell.
“I enjoyed working with Mark. I thought he was really good, and the same with Johnny. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t really get the results, because at the start of the season we got a few decent results, and we thought we were going to have a good year.
“Then it just went pear-shaped in the end.”
At the time of writing, Hughes was undecided about where he would be playing his football in 2016. He says that he would like to remain in the top-tier, but was quick to point out how competitive the First Division will be next year.
“No, it’s all up in the air at the minute. I’m talking to a few clubs. I was talking to Pete [Mahon] not so long ago, but I still have a few options.
“I’m not entirely 100% sure what I’m going to do yet. Probably next week or two, I’ll probably make my decision on who I’ll be signing with.”
“I’ve had offers from the Premier alright. It’s probably where you do want to be playing. It’s the top level of Irish football, and not knocking the First Division. It’s going to be a really competitive league this year as well with the likes of Limerick going down and Drogheda. There’s Athlone, there’s UCD, Shelbourne. They’re going to be all really strong, so it’s going to be a really interesting league,” Hughes added.