Hughes began his playing career at Arbroath but was forced to take a step back to Scottish Junior Football Association outfit Newtongrange Star before returning to the professional ranks.
However, the Hibs boss would not have had it any other way, saying: "It was absolutely fantastic.
"I signed for Arbroath when I was 16, lasted a year up there and eventually went junior about 19-20.
"It toughened me right up.
"I played with some wonderful players: Bobby Flavell - who used to play at Hibs - one of the best strikers of a football I've ever come across."
He added: "There are things that happen in your career and happen in your life that is the making of you.
"It's knockbacks where you say, 'I'll prove a lot of people wrong'.
"I certainly enjoyed the juniors: fantastic social life and some great boys, great characters."
Hughes, who remains in touch with many of his former team-mates, even looks back with fondness on the dark side of the semi-professional game, recalling: "We played St Roch's at Newton Grange Star and the manager said, 'You should take this mob'.
"It was 0-0 with two minutes to go and I was getting frustrated.
"There was an old boy playing for them and I was a bit late in the tackle.
"There was a wee bit of a rumpus and after the match he just came up to me, shook my hand and said, 'Well done, well done. I'll see you next week'.
"First five minutes of the following game, he came in and broke my leg!"
Hughes believes the likes of Irvine have vindicated the decision to allow junior teams to enter the Scottish Cup three years ago.
He added: "They've got some good players."
"We all know (Brian) McGinty, who played with St Mirren, young boy (Mark) Crilly, who I felt had a big future in the game when I played with him at Ayr United.
"Richie Barr up front, a young boy up front, who was a young kid here at Hibs.
"And they're quite a big, physical side in certain areas of the park."
Hughes yesterday vowed to pick his strongest possible side.
He admitted he would play one or two fringe men but wants his players to treat the fourth-round tie like a "derby match".
He revealed Graeme Smith would continue in goal, with Yves Ma-Kalambay and Graham Stack still injured, though the latter is hoping to get the green light from a back specialist in London on Tuesday.
Hughes brought in Smith last week and has also been in discussions to sign Falkirk captain Darren Barr on a pre-contract.
"There were provisional talks here and there but it's gone a bit stale to tell you the truth," he said.
"If he wants to go away and look elsewhere - great - on we go.
"It's not done and dusted yet.
"But there's other irons in the fire."
Hughes is also in talks over extending Ian Murray's contract, which expires at the end of the season.
He admits he fears the defender walking away, adding: "He's everything I want at the club.
"Fingers crossed, we can get him tied up."