Derek Duggan delivered for Roscommon
By Cian O'Connell
Timing is everything in sport. Out west in Roscommon the passion for Gaelic Football endures and on the eve of another seminal afternoon at the storied Dr Hyde Park, past deeds and triumphs matter recalling a spell when the primrose and blue were truly relevant nationally.
Derek Duggan was firmly part of the tale during the breathless GAA summer of 1991 which was all about draws and drama. Meath and Dublin enthralled a nation, while in Connacht Roscommon and Mayo had their own little saga.
Seconds after Liam McHale, ironically now a Roscommon selector, edged Mayo ahead, questions had to be answered. Roscommon, trailing late on, needed an equaliser so Duggan, a talented teenager in his first campaign at senior level, thumped over a free which remains one of the most iconic and celebrated scores in the county.
The replay ended with a Roscommon win and curiously remains the last time they have successfully defended the provincial title. It is a statistic Roscommon hope to alter this weekend, but Duggan recalls being on a panel flecked with able and experienced performers.
“That team - if you look at the forward line and I just slipped in there - you had Paul Earley, Tony McManus, Junior McManus, Tommy Grehan, he had some experience in Australia at the time,” Duggan recalls.
“You probably had the best midfield in the country in Seamus Killoran and John Newton, and you had a very solid backline. You felt protected in there, it was a great feeling for a young fella to get into a set-up like that, just to concentrate on his own game.”
It is precisely what Duggan did in the Championship accumulating 1-25 in four debut season tussles. Having shown promise in the Roscommon minor, Castlerea, and St Jarlath’s jerseys, Duggan was primed to deliver.
“I was on the minor team for the previous two years before that in ‘89 and ‘90. In ‘89 we won a famous Connacht Final in a replay against Galway. That was the time there was a bit of controversy when Shane Curran scored a last minute penalty. It went to a replay in ‘89 and I was minor again in ‘90.
“I came on to the Roscommon panel at the end of 1990 when the National League was starting. All of a sudden I was playing senior before I was playing Under 21 at that stage. It was a whirlwind start, everything just seemed to go well.
“Castlerea had a particularly good team, our senior team got to the County Final that year and we played against the great Clann na nGael team that were winning Connachts for fun at that stage.
“Getting to a County Final was the platform really for getting me on to the senior, not so much the minor years. It was more so performing well against Clann na nGael, that is what got me on to the senior set-up.”
June 30, 1991 at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada was Duggan’s first summer start for Roscommon against Leitrim with valuable lessons learned. “I just remember marking Ollie Honeyman - it was my first game and one of his last games in Championship football,” Duggan laughs.
“He was an old campaigner with loads of experience, it took me a good 20 or 25 minutes to settle into the game, Ollie had a few tricks up his sleeve early on. He made sure I was a bit unsettled, but I grew into the game, I scored before half-time, that settled me, and I grew in confidence from there on in.”
Roscommon skipped into a Connacht Final where Mayo, All Ireland finalists in 1989, awaited. It was a match with severe implications, and unsurprisingly Castlebar was brimful with Duggan’s epic free forcing another day out at the Hyde.
“It was a funny and unusual one at the time,” Duggan admits. “It was very close to the end of the game, I remember Gay Sheerin kicking out the ball and we did get a free. It never entered my head to go out to take the free, to go for a score.
“A clubmate of mine, Mattie Reilly, was playing in the half back line at the time, he grabbed the ball and he called me out. I actually thought he was going to give me a short free, I made two different runs for a short free, making a sprint, but he kept calling me out.
“Now Mattie might have been used to me kicking frees for the club, and I would have kicked long range frees, he had plenty of confidence in me, probably more than I had in myself. Going out to the ball it looked an awful distance, but after placing it and looking in I just felt it might be within my range.
“I just said I would go for it, Mattie gave me the encouragement to go for it, and I didn't think of anything else. Funny enough people say it was a pressure kick, but I never felt pressure.
“It was one of them things, to me it was just a free kick and you go for it and it worked out grand because I hit it on the button.”
Only a couple of short years beforehand while a boarder at St Jarlath’s, the fabled nursery with Ja Fallon and Kenneth Mortimer contemporaries, Duggan formed part of an experiment. Free-taking was an area Duggan relished, but in Tuam another interesting layer was added to his game.
“I would have been very confident taking frees back then, I always took them for the club and the minors the previous two years, and I took them for St Jarlath's when we got to the Hogan Cup Final in 1990,” Duggan states.
“I played midfield at that stage so I was used to taking the frees. It was only around then that you could start taking frees from the hand, but I always had taken them from the ground.
“I was practising them, but when I was younger in Jarlath's because of my free taking I played a League campaign in goal just for kickouts more so to get distance. That helped me practice long distance frees.
“I think I was in fourth year, I was on the senior panel at the time, they put me in goal for a League campaign just to get distance in the kickouts. That was for the League, but when the Championship came around they moved me back into the forwards. That was my only spell in goal really.”
Roscommon benefitted from that planning in 1991 with Duggan nailing 0-14 in the two match series with Mayo. Decades later, though, the All Ireland Semi-Final against Meath still hurts Roscommon, who reckon it was one that slipped badly away.
“Definitely,” Duggan replies. “At the time I felt we could beat anybody and that feeling was definitely in the camp at that stage. We played a lot of challenge matches around the country. Cork had won a few of the previous All Irelands, they were the best team in Munster at the time, we played a few challenges in the north and we were winning those. The confidence in the team was huge.
“Going in against Meath the confidence was still there, but it was one we blew really. I didn't think too much of it at the time because it was my first campaign, you think you'll be around the next year and the year after and the year after.
“For the older lads you could sense it was a big disappointment to them and it was to me at the time, but more so to them. As the years go on talking to the lads around the panel, and I know myself, it is a huge regret because I think we were very, very close to going all the way.”
With the JJ Nestor Cup defended hoisting Sam Maguire was the mission Roscommon wanted to accomplish. “I still feel if we got to the final we would have beaten Down,” Duggan admits.
“I know it is easy to say that. Given the way the final went Meath had a number of injuries and guys on their sick bed. Colm O'Rourke, in particular, had the flu or some sort of virus and they brought him on and they turned an 11 point deficit into a two point defeat. If there was another five minutes they'd have beaten Down.
“Meath showed how good they were and probably were overall the better team, they just left it too late to click into gear.
“I think we felt we were equally as good as Down, it was a real chance to win an All Ireland, especially for teams like Roscommon, that don't have the same playing population as other counties. It is one that really got away and as the years go by there is regret.
“It is definitely one that got away, you only get one chance in games like that, and unfortunately we couldn't take it.”
In that adventure everything seemed possible for Duggan, who flared to prominence. Reflecting back on that glorious Roscommon stint Duggan accepts how ‘lucky’ he was to be able to integrate into such a decorated outfit.
“It was my first campaign, when you start off well as a young fella like that, and I suppose any young fella playing, you survive and your performances are all about confidence,” Duggan remarks.
“It is very prevalent with the Dublin set-up, you see young fellas coming into that like Colm Basquel, Con O'Callaghan all these lads really flourish with a good set-up.
“You have a lot of experienced fellas around them protecting them, they can just concentrate on their own job which is a huge, huge advantage. I was very lucky in that regard in '91, I came into a very experienced team and I was just able to concentrate on my own job. It was great because they looked after me as the young fella on the team.”
Modest about his own achievements Duggan quickly identifies some former club colleagues in Castlerea, who could have been real stars in a different era.
“You'd have a few lads, especially in my own club Castlera, they were fantastic club footballers and great footballers, but they got on to a Roscommon team when an awful lot went on their shoulders and they had to lift the siege themselves,” Duggan comments.
“There was an awful lot of responsibility on them and they struggled for a while, they didn't have the same freedom. If they had the same opportunity to get into a set-up that was a good, solid set-up they would have been fantastic footballers.
“Ger Heneghan is one fella, in particular, he was a brilliant club footballer and he played some excellent games for Roscommon, but unfortunately people were looking to Ger to do everything. He wasn't on that strong of a team at the time and when things weren't going right for him nobody could lift the siege.
“It is a pity he wasn't on a better team because I think he could have been one of the greats for Roscommon because he had that much ability. You can be lucky, and I was lucky in that sense, I came on a good team and it helped me bed into the Roscommon scene. That is what you need: a good start.”
Duggan seized the opportunity, leaving a mark on a memorable occasion 27 years ago, and his intervention will never be forgotten.