August 05, 1994
Former County football star Johnny Hughes
And the rest of the Galway football world will be behind the hurlers all the way on Sunday
It is an indication of how times have changed as Galway look to their hurlers for All-Ireland glory. Johnny Hughes recalls the footballers halcyon days when they were one of the most feared powers in the land, but at present it is the stick wielding wearers of the maroon who claim the limelight.
A member of the Senior Galway football team for almost twelve years Hughes will be firmly behind the hurlers when they take the field in the All-Ireland semi final against Offaly, hoping the maroon and whites can take a giant step towards claiming their fifth McCarthy Cup. "I enjoy watching hurling, it is a fine skilful game and it would be great to see Galway do well but I believe the team that beats Offaly will be the team to win the All-Ireland and Galway will have it all to do to get the better of them, it will be close. Hurling has come on a lot in Galway over the past twenty years and it is great to see it".
A lover of hurling it was as a footballer Johnny Hughes earned a reputation as a tough skilful dependable player, who gained two All-Star awards (in '74 and '76) and appeared in three All-Ireland Senior finals . ending up on the losing side on each occasion.
Growing up in the late fifties and sixties Johnny, like all football mad youngsters in Galway, basked in the glory regularly achieved by the county footballers. Between 1956 and 1966 the Tribesmen won four All-Ireland titles, including the glorious three in a row from 1964 to '66. It is a run of success no team from Connacht has matched (or even gone close to matching) since, something that is no mean source of disappointment to a man who feels deeply and passionately about Galway football.
"It is very disappointing to realise Galway have not won an All-Ireland for nearly thirty years now and over that length of time Connacht football has sunk to a new low and I don't know if teams even take pride in going to Croke Park any more", adds Johnny.
A native of Mountbellew in north Galway Hughes served his football apprenticeship with the local club, moving up through the grades. An injury prevented him from appearing for the Galway Minors but he made it on to the county Under 21s, turning out at the grade for three years. A few appearances in tournament games (including the now defunct Wembley tournament) and challenges prefaced his first appearance in the Connacht Championship of 1973, the Tribesmen went on to win the title (by defeating Mayo 1-17 to 2-12) before overcoming Offaly in the All-Ireland semi final and earning a joust against Cork in the decider, an occasion the Mountbellow player remembers with mixed emotions.
"There was great excitement before the game and the build up to the whole occasion and all that went with it. It was something you don't tend to forget easily but unfortunately the game itself didn't go too well for us. We scored 2-13 which would be usually enough to win an All-Ireland but we still ended up losing".
The Tribesmen with Johnny Hughes once again at left half back made it to the All-Ireland the following year only to come up against Heffo's heroes as the resurgent Dublin team under coach Kevin Heffernan was picking up speed fast. Bolstered by the experience gained the previous year Galway went into the game with high expectations, but a combination of ill-luck, poor shooting and a determined Dublin performance once again sent the Westerners home empty handed. "We had about seventy five per cent of the play in the game but we were not able to capitalise on the possession we had. Our forwards missed a lot of good chances and you can't afford to do that against a team like Dublin. It was very disappointing to lose that game as well, especially as it was our second successive final to lose. But I remember that match because of the great atmosphere. The Dublin supporters started to follow them in big numbers and they certainly made their presence felt".
It was to be nine years before Galway and Johnny Hughes made it back to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. The disappointments of the two occasions had left their mark and in 1983 the Galway men were eager to make up for lost opportunities. Dublin, once again, had other ideas and proved to be the stumbling blocks, running out winners on a 1-10 to 1-8 scoreline. This, despite being reduced to twelve men, with Galway also losing a player. "That was another game we could have won, but we failed to take the chances that came our way". For the third time Johnny Hughes trooped back to the losers dressing room.
Reflecting on that match the Mountbellew man feels he should not have played. "The Championship had gone well for me and I had a good game against Donegal in the semi final but towards the end of the game I felt a twinge at my groin and the next morning I found it very had to get out of bed. I received some treatment and it turned out I had damaged a tendon. When the time came to select the team I declared myself fit but I was only was determined to play in that final. In hindsight it was very foolish and it thought me a lesson all young players should heed, if you can't give your best, you are better off not playing. I was o.k. in the final up to half time but in the second half the injury got worse as the game went on. It took me two years to get back to full fitness after that".
The All-Ireland appearance in '83 effectively brought an end to Johnny's intercounty career at 33 but he did play some club football. While Hughes suffered more than his fair share of disappointments in the county colours (losing four All-Ireland's, three Senior and one Junior in 1972) there were a number of highlights. The Connacht titles and most noticeably the National League crown won in 1981 when the Tribesmen defeated Connacht rivals Roscommon 1-11 to 1-2, but even that victory was tinged by subsequent events.
"It was great to be part of a Galway team to win the National League, we hadn't won it for many years before that but shortly after the League final I broke my ankle and I had to have an operation where I had a bone graft, with a piece taken out of my knee and put on my ankle. There was a big question mark whether I would be able to play again or not, but I always loved playing football and I was determined to get myself back to full fitness".
At club level Hughes enjoyed better fortune helping Mountbellew-Moylough to a Galway Senior title in 1974 as well as a number of Division One League titles. Since hanging up his boots in the mid-eighties Hughes has remained an interested spectator, watching football at club and intercounty level, observing closely the changing trends. Over the past ten years he has been saddened by the demise of the game in Connacht. "Sometimes it is hard to believe that it was 1966 when the last team from Connacht won the All-Ireland, it is very difficult to know why. One of the reasons I think is the lack of big forwards who can take the scoring opportunities that come their way. In modern football that is the difference between success and failure. You have to take your choice".
Married to Carmel with three daughters Brenda, Marie and Orla, Johnny Hughes works as an Area Sales manager with Pat O'Donnell and Co. sponsors of the Clare Hurling team. Delighted to see Leitrim win their first Connacht title in '67 years recently, he would dearly love to see Galway win another All-Ireland and bring back to the banks of the Corrib some of the footballing glory he enjoyed as a player. In the meantime the county football fraternity will be full behind the hurlers quest for success.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
5th August 1994
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