As they toed and froed in the weeks before Christmas, Declan Bonner had an inkling that he wouldn’t be calling upon Eoin McHugh in 2018.
The Kilcar man, a final year business student at University of Ulster, Jordanstown, indicated that he could no longer commit to the commute and combine inter-county football with his studies.
This week, McHugh confirmed that he had opted out for the next 12 months.
Although the 23-year-old hopes to return to the green and gold for 2019, there is acceptance from player and manager that there won’t be a U-turn for this summer.
“It’s totally understandable,” Bonner said.
I was in touch regularly with him. I knew that he was undecided about what he wanted to do. One part of him wanted to stay and the other wasn’t sure. There was no pressure on with any of that.
“We knew a couple of weeks ago, but we left him to make his own announcement on it. I knew around Christmas that he wanted to play out the McKenna Cup with UUJ. That was his decision and we had to respect that.”
McHugh would have been a potential match-winner in Bonner’s ranks and his absence certainly leaves a big void.
Bonner said: “It’s a huge loss. He’s a quality player, but we have to respect it. Every journey for him is a couple of hours and he wants to get his head down in college. He himself wants to take 2018 out.”
McHugh made his Championship debut in 2016 against Fermanagh, kicking two points in a 2-12 to 0-11 win.
Bonner knows all about commitment and commuting.
From remote Lettermacaward, Bonner has a 90km roundtrip commute to county training. The journey from Kilcar to Ballybofey is a little longer, but in the same ballpark.
Donegal have 14 players based in Dublin at the moment and three others are also living outside of Donegal.
Eugene Eivers, who was on the backroom team under Jim McGuinness and who was part of Bonner’s Under-21 set-up last year, trains the Dublin-based players.
The conversation brings Bonner around to a different point of the same topic.
“The commitment at this level is serious; really, it has got too much,” the Donegal manager observed.
“We were back in the gym on Monday after coming back from Kerry on Sunday. It’s full-time and every day is a working day.
“Lads are putting in a huge effort…but that’s where it is at.”