A YOUNG MAN OF MANY TALENTS Ronan Hughes is pictured in action for Mayo at Under-16 level. Pic: Michael Donnelly
CONSIDERING that his father, Declan, and uncle, Eoin, both wore the Green and Red of Mayo in their younger days there was always a good chance that Ronan Hughes would play county football too.
His uncle on his mother’s side, John Malone, was also a talented footballer and rugby player who won a Connacht Under-21 championship medal with Mayo in 1985.
And sure enough, Tomás Morley was sufficiently impressed by The Neale teenager to include him in both his 2019 and 2020 squads.
Ronan, who was only 15 at the time, featured in all eight of Mayo’s championship matches two years ago, starting the dramatic Connacht Final win over Galway and coming off the bench during their subsequent All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork at Croke Park.
It was a very different story in 2020 as Hughes and his Mayo Under-17 team-mates waited all year for their one and only game of the season; a shock defeat to Sligo behind closed doors on a Sunday afternoon in December in Bekan.
Ronan captained Mayo in that game and, despite the defeat, has plenty of positive memories from his time playing county football under Tomás Morley, who stepped down as minor manager at the end of last year.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan against Sligo, but my goal all along was to make the minor team and play for Mayo,” he explained Ronan who plays in the forwards.
“And I was very proud for myself and for my family to captain Mayo.
“It was a great two years and, as well as being captain last year, winning a Connacht title and getting to an All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park were obviously the main highlights.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget.
“That Connacht final [in 2019] was unbelievable really,” he continued. “Words can’t describe something like that. To beat Galway by a point after extra-time and all the drama and excitement.
“So much went into that win behind the scenes. So much hard work. We had trained really hard, had gone on different team-bonding weekends, and really came together as a group.
“On a personal level, away from the football field as much as on it, I think everyone would say that they found out so much about themselves during that season with the minors.
“It makes you a better person and you learn life traits. Things like the importance of having a good attitude and putting in the hard work to have a chance of being successful.”
Hard work is something that Ronan Hughes believes is fundamental to achieving his goals.
These days he’s in his home gym four times a week, goes out for a run twice a week, and not a day goes by when he’s not outside his house in Caherduff working on his ball skills.
The Neale GAA pitch in Cong has been his playground for as long as he can remember.
“You live for football. I know no differently than to go to the pitch and train,” he admitted.
“I’m training flat out myself at the moment. I know I’m still a bit young for the Mayo Under-20s this year, but I definitely want to give myself the best possible opportunity of playing next year. I’m eligible to play senior with The Neale this year too.”
Covid-19 restrictions mean that he won’t get to play any football with Ballinrobe Community School this year but he has already made his peace with that. He’s too busy for regrets.
“We would have had a good group there this year for senior football, but I’m more disappointed for the Leaving Certs who won’t get a chance to play with the school again,” he said. “Personally, I’m not feeling lockdown too bad but it’s still getting monotonous. I’m looking forward to getting back to school and back to playing football again.”