Monday 24 October 2016

The maestro that Mayo let slip from grasp

John Fallon

Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30

Galway great Jimmy Duggan feels Mayo hold the aces going into Sunday's game ANDREW DOWNES
Galway great Jimmy Duggan feels Mayo hold the aces going into Sunday's game ANDREW DOWNES
The late Dermot Earley in action for Roscommon

Mayo football is littered with the debris of shattered All-Ireland dreams, but it is not just titles they have let slip through their grasp, great players who were there for the taking were also allowed wither on the vine.

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None, though, epitomises that than Jimmy Duggan (pictured below). He won his first All-Ireland colleges medal with St Jarlath's of Tuam in 1964 but wasn't deemed good enough when called for trials for Mayo minors.

He was only 16 at the time so maybe the Green and Red thought he would be fine for the following year but, not for the first or last time, Mayo paid heavily for their hesitancy.

Galway pounced and signed him up and when he won his second colleges medal two years later, he pushed on that season to star in the middle of the field as an 18-year-old as Galway won their third All-Ireland senior title in a row.

Duggan went on to play in another three All-Ireland finals without success, but picked up another half a dozen Connacht titles in a career that was marked by a high skill level, which he epitomised with some wonderful fielding.

Mayo's loss was the Tribesmen's gain but, in fairness, all of Duggan's DNA is Galway. His father Joe was from Annaghdown, himself a former Galway footballer, and his mother Nora was one of the renowned Stephens' in Corofin.

Duggan was actually born in Galway, at the old Grove Hospital in Tuam, but he grew up in Mayo and went on to win county championships with Claremorris.

His father was an engineer with Galway County Council but got a job in Belmullet in north Co Mayo, where the family lived for three years before moving to Claremorris, and that is where Duggan grew up.

"That is where I developed my football skills. There was a great group of guys down there at that time. We played juvenile, minor and senior. I actually won from U-12 the whole way through. I won juvenile then minor, U-21 was there at the time but then senior as well. I had a great time there."

He went to the famed St Jarlath's College in Tuam and made an immediate impact, starring as they lifted the Hogan Cup in 64 with victory over St Finian's of Mullingar.

"Back in 1964 I was in St Jarlath's at the time and the Mayo trials were on in minor. I attended the Mayo trials in Castlebar and then on Easter Monday they had another trial where the amalgamated North and South played the East and West.

"I got a trial but I wasn't picked so I came back to school and lo and behold I had a visitation during my study hours from Galway stalwarts Fr Paddy Mahon and Brendan Nestor and an uncle of mine, Paddy Stephens, who was President of Galway GAA, asking by any chance would I play with Galway.

"It never actually entered my head, never, before that of playing for Galway. Incidentally Dermot Earley and I, we went through colleges football together, he was St Nathy's, I was in Jarlath's. We discussed playing minor football when we were 14 and 15 and he was actually born in Castlebar.

"So he was actually entitled to play with Mayo. And because I was living in Mayo we never thought that we would be playing for Galway or Roscommon.

"We were debating strongly that both of us would be playing midfield for Mayo minors and looking forward to it. But things happened and life changes," recalled Duggan.

His debut for Galway, inevitably, was against Mayo that summer in the minor championship in Tuam. His club was listed as Claremorris... and Mayo won.

"Sledging wasn't invented at that time but there were a few words exchanged! And it continued for years but most of it was in great spirit.

"I had to get a type of transfer because I was playing my club football in Mayo. But I enjoyed playing against Mayo, I enjoyed playing club football for Claremorris and we won championships down there and I still kept friends down there.

"But there was a bit of banter when Mayo played Galway."

There was a further twist when he was selected to play for the Galway minor hurling team, even though he didn't have a club and he partnered Galway legend John Connolly at midfield in the Munster championship. I was lucky, I played minor hurling in 65 as well. John Connolly and I played midfield for the minors in the Munster semi-final in Limerick.

"As did John Connolly play football for Galway in 1968 and John was a good footballer. But I never played club hurling, never."

He picked up a second colleges medal in 66 and the greatest Galway team of all time had no hesitation in drafting the teenager as they went on to complete the three-in-a-row, succeeding where his father had failed.

"He was, unfortunately, like myself, he was on the three years that Galway got beaten in the All-Ireland final, I think it was 1941, 42 and 43.

"And like myself we got beaten in three as well, 71, 73 and 74. Little did I think that after winning 66 we would get no more, we thought it would go on forever."

He got a job with Bank of Ireland, or the National Bank as it was then known, and when he moved to Galway he switched to the Corofin club where his mother's people were from, and went on to win another six Connacht titles until he retired in 1979, by which time he had added a Galway title to the Mayo honours he won with Claremorris.

Over the years he rejoiced in Galway's successes in 1998 and 2001 and shared the pain of Mayo's heartbreak.

"I think every Connacht man looking back on the years when Mayo had the opportunity to win was behind them. Mayo left a few behind them, not once but twice and maybe three times.

"And we would have loved to see Mayo win it. They had the best opportunity the year that Liam MacHale got put off, that was the best opportunity.

"I don't know if the team are lacking something but they certainly don't take onus when they are in front of the goal.

"They want to keep passing the ball and passing when there is no one there to take ownership and pop it over the bar. In this day and age you have to be able to kick the ball."

So who will win Sunday's Connacht semi-final at Pearse Stadium, only a short walk from his Salthill home?

"I couldn't see Galway win in their present state. I couldn't see them unless something dramatic happens, we would definitely have to win midfield.

"Totally dominate it because if you dominate midfield, not to the same extent now as in the past, but if you do dominate it you are going to put pressure on a backline. And I think if we can get the ball to our full-forward line quick and fast, we can do something.

"Galway have certainly to move up a gear. They wouldn't have been happy with the performance against Leitrim or for that matter New York.

"They had a good start in the Leitrim game but then they faltered. They need to move up a gear.

"Mayo are athletes, I don't think you are going to get big scores. Unfortunately I think it is Mayo for me but hopefully it will be a tremendous match," added Duggan, who will continue to follow the fortunes of both sides regardless of the result.

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