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Referee Hugh Duggan with Dublin captain Tony Hanahoe and Kerry captain Tim Kennelly and Frank Hughes, right, holding the match ball before the start of the game.
Referee Hugh Duggan with Dublin captain Tony Hanahoe and Kerry captain Tim Kennelly and Frank Hughes, right, holding the match ball before the start of the game.

1979 Final referee Hugh Duggan still going strong 


By John Harrington

Hugh Duggan will be celebrating a 40th anniversary when he attends Sunday’s All-Ireland Senior Football Final in Croke Park.

The Armagh native refereed the 1979 Final when the two competing counties also happened to be Dublin and Kerry.

For Duggan, the intervening years have “gone like a blink”, and his recall of that match and the Championship summer that preceded it is crystal clear.

He admits he was shocked to have been given the honour of refereeing the Final as he’d only been an inter-county referee for four years.

But he’d impressed when refereeing the National Football League Final earlier that year and also in the Ulster Final between Monaghan and Donegal when he kept his cool in very trying circumstances.

Duggan had been warned before the match that he had to throw the ball in at 3.40pm on the button because the BBC were televising an Ulster Final for the first time.

But 15 minutes before throw-in the match-day schedule was thrown into disarray when Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiach made a surprise appearance at the match.

He had just returned from Rome where he’d been made a Cardinal, so there was quite the fuss made when he walked onto the pitch.

"I was enjoying the atmosphere myself, getting my photo taken with the Cardinal,” Duggan recalled.

“Then all of a sudden I looked at my watch and it was 3.35 and the Cardinal still on the pitch with the players all around him.

“I had to go to the Cardinal and sort of usher him off the field. I was sort of pushing and helping him along. I eventually took him by the hand and told him, 'look, I have to get the game started, we'll have to play the National Anthem at half-time'.

“Obviously the band had been practicing for two months to play the National Anthem and weren't too happy with this but I was just doing what I was told to do.

“So, I threw the ball in and Donegal went down the field and scored a point. Then I was told the match would have to be restarted because the National Anthem hadn't been played.

“I was thinking to myself, 'If this game finishes in a draw or there's only one point in it, then I'm in big trouble!' I was in a terrible predicament that wasn't of my making.

“Lucky enough it transpired that Monaghan won it comfortably.

“Then, after I was appointed referee for the All-Ireland Final, the Cardinal, who was a good friend of mine, invited me to come have a cup of tea with him.

“He gave me his blessing and when I was leaving I asked him had he any bit of advice for me.

“These were his exact words: 'For Christ's sake, Hugh, let the Artane Boys Band play the Soldier's Song!'”

Hugh Duggan, Armagh & USGAA is presented with the International Award by Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan, right, and Denis O'Callaghan, Head of Distribution at AIB, during the 2019 GAA President's Awards at Croke Park in Dublin. 
Hugh Duggan, Armagh & USGAA is presented with the International Award by Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan, right, and Denis O'Callaghan, Head of Distribution at AIB, during the 2019 GAA President's Awards at Croke Park in Dublin. 

Kerry defeated Dublin comfortably in the 1979 All-Ireland Final but it was a hard-hitting match and Duggan had a busy afternoon.

He eventually sent off Kerry’s Páidí Ó Sé in the second-half which, even though it was the correct call, was still a fairly controversial one because in that era of the game it was very unusual for a player to be given his marching orders in the biggest game of the year.

“In the past, referees before then let people away with murder, to be honest,” said Duggan.

“The theory at the time as far as the public was concerned was that we were instructed to referee the All-Ireland differently. 'Don't send players off, this is the All-Ireland Final'.

“That wasn't true, nobody ever came to me at any level to say this is what you should or shouldn't be doing, but that was the common talk at the time.

“Around that time the referees brought out an instructional video of 16 occasions in All-Ireland semi-finals and finals when players should have been sent off.

“And, this is the truth, Paidi Ó Sé was in 12 out of the 16!

“He was mad at me when I sent him off in the '79 Final and didn't speak to me for a couple of years.

“But the first time he saw that instructional video he came to San Francisco with the All-Stars and got up on the stage and publicly apologised to me for the way he had treated me for sending him off.

“I thought it took a real man to do something like that.”

Duggan moved to San Francisco in the USA in 1981 but has remained hugely active in Gaelic Games.

He was a founding member of the Ulster Club in the city in 1987 and was their first Secretary and team manager.

He then managed the Michael Cusacks club to three North American titles in four years.

He’s served various administrative roles in North American GAA too, including San Francisco Division Chairman and Chairman of the 2001 North American Divisional Finals.

He’s currently USGAA Referee Administrator and estimates that in the past year he’s travelled more than 25,000 kilometres carrying out that role.

Perhaps most impressively, the now 77-year-old is still an active referee and just as passionate about the role as he was when the officiated at the 1979 All-Ireland Final.

“I still enjoy it, surely,” said Duggan.

“Now, I can't run the way I used to run, but I can still make a decision and I know the rules better than anyone out here.

“Whenever I come home my wife Cindy would say to me, 'Well, how did it go?'

“And I always reply, 'I'm still a b**tard!'”