Star veteran determined to bank shield memory

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2013

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In eight previous Galbraith Shield finals, it's the ones that have gotten away which tend to stick out more for Star captain Mark McHugh.

Saturday's premier club rugby final at Rugby Park will mark a special moment for the Waverly Park No 8, his brother Andrew and fellow veteran Mana Harrison.

It will be the ninth time the trio have contested the pinnacle event, with McHugh having been on the winning side four times so far.

But it's a couple of those losses that really stand out.

"I can remember every one that I've lost more clearly than the ones we've won. A Blair Stewart drop goal killed us in one, we've given away penalties with time up against Woodlands in two others. That hurt, and you remember it," McHugh said.

"We've been through so many ups and downs. I think back to a couple of years ago when Greg Saunders scored the winning try [for Star] in the last minute. That sort of typified the way it's been with Star over the last couple of years."

McHugh is in his 12th season of senior club rugby and said he was starting to think about retirement.

"I'm knocking on the door. Every time I play the body feels a little bit sorer, the bones are starting to ache," he said.

"I'm 30 now and Andrew and Mana are 31 and 32 [respectively], so there's going to have to be a time when a new band comes in. We've actually picked up a few young players this year which has been good. Hopefully they can carry the torch for the next few years. We've probably only got another couple of years, so at this end of your career, these finals probably mean a bit more than they did seven or eight years ago."

McHugh said the support of wife Amy had been vital to him continuing his time with Star, especially since the arrival of their daughter Sienna.

Star was a family club, which was important because many of the players were young fathers, McHugh said.

McHugh, a mortgage and insurance adviser with the Lifetime Group, had originally planned to play for Marist after leaving school but changed his mind at the last minute when his mother became concerned she would have to divide her loyalties between her two sons.

Playing alongside Andrew for more than a decade had been special, McHugh said.

"He's such a club guy too, he's been bar manager for a few years and club captain. He's been huge for the club, on and off the field."

McHugh's brief representative career - he played three seasons behind Iona Sipa with the Stags during the mid-2000s - came to a halt after a falling out with Stags coach David Henderson, but it's something McHugh looks back on as a positive now.

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"I probably didn't help myself there, but it probably worked out better because I headed overseas for a year and that was one of the highlights of my rugby, going over there and having a good time," he said.

"I've put that behind me and I'm sure [Henderson] has too. If I'd made that Stags team, I would never have headed overseas and it's probably one of the best things I've ever done."

McHugh spent a season playing professionally in Ireland. While there, he was approached by a member of super club Munster, but they lost interest when they found out he didn't have a British passport.

McHugh said Star would not be taking a backward step against the defending champions on Saturday.

"I suppose we are probably going up against a more fancied team, it always seems to be the way when you are going up against Woodlands, but we aren't going to change anything we do. Hopefully we can get a result - everyone wants to win - but as long as we put in an effort that we can be proud of, that would be good."

- The Southland Times

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