If you had told Monaghan footballer, Darren Hughes, 10 years ago that he would be at home working on the farm, he would have laughed at you.

At that time, he was studying business in Belfast and had no interest in going back to agriculture.

Now he’s at home milking 80 cows with a Lely robot and is in the process of building a new house up the road from their yard.

Football and Work

Darren recently tore the medial ligament in his knee, which has seen him out of action in the last few weeks.

After beating Fermanagh in the preliminary round of the Ulster championship, however, he is hoping he can return to feature for their next match against neighbours Cavan in the Ulster quarter final on 11 June.

When people ask him how he manages the farming and football, he replies, “How do people manage a normal job?”

He had worked in sales with Gaelic Performance for a few years previously, but felt that wasn’t for him.

“Working in sales was the main reason I decided to go farming,” he says.

“I just couldn’t handle the nine to five. You’d be cramped up in work all day, then you’d have to rush off to training two or three times a week. You were cancelling on people and letting them down. Then, the next day you’d have to try and make the time back up.”


So after Darren completed the Green Cert in Ballyhaise Agricultural College, he and his father decided it was time to upgrade the parlour. They had an old 14-unit herringbone parlour that was past its sell-by date.

“We were up at Balmoral Show having a look at some systems and dad just jumped on the Lely bandwagon,” says Darren, who says that after working with the robot, “there is no way I’d go back to the parlour”.

“I know there’s the initial investment, but with the robot it’s a totally different lifestyle. You’re not tied to the farm 24/7. I don’t have to be there morning and evening 365 days of the year. Yesterday, I went away for the day and came back and did the jobs at eight in the evening. I don’t think I’d be playing football if we had just upgraded the parlour.”

All going according to plan, all Darren has to do is call down to the yard, check the animals, feed them and look after the calves.

“It is like being a beef farmer in ways,” he explains. “It gives me a chance to work on better farm management, growing good-quality grass, feeding as little concentrates as possible and football of course.”

“The robot records every cow at every milking. Sometimes you’d have too much information and it puts you in bad form the odd day,” he laughs.

Since going into farming full-time, Darren explains how he feels he can be much more flexible with his time for football.

“The odd time during the calving you might get caught up and have to miss a session, but apart from that there’s no hassle,” he says.

“The robot is milking away and if there is a problem I’ll get a text on my phone.”

Darren has activity meters on all of the cows. When a cow comes in heat, he gets a text and the cow is held in the yard until she is serviced.

“We’re running 80 cows on two separate blocks: 30% of the grazing block is beside the yard and the other 70% is 1.6km over the road. We had to build a tunnel under our neighbour’s driveway to get to the second block. We probably have the capacity to milk about 110 cows, but to do that I’d need to buy another robot, which is something I’m considering at the minute.”

As frustrating as it is being injured, Darren admits that the farm is a welcome distraction.

“It’s nice to have another outlet to focus on when I’m injured. Even on the crutches, I can tip about the yard and help out. I’d go out of my mind if I had to rest up and do nothing.”

He still has to go to training to get physio treatment and do rehab, so there isn’t really any time off with injury.

“If anything, it’s harder when you’re injured. You’re training on your own and you have to do your rehab everyday and sometimes twice a day. You just want to be out with the rest of the lads.”

He is coy on Monaghan’s aspirations for the summer ahead.

“We had a good league campaign and now we’re focusing in on the Cavan game. We’ll see how we are after that. We’re not looking too far down the line,” he says.

Nonetheless, Monaghan fans have a lot to thank that Lely salesman at Balmoral for. We wish Darren a speedy recovery. CL