Monday 21 October 2019

The warrior: Can't get enough of that wonderful Duff

'I loved playing for Dublin and I love going to support them now...' Kieran Duff reflects on his career in the famous Sky Blue

24 May 1986: Kieran Duff, Dublin, in action against Galway. Picture Credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
24 May 1986: Kieran Duff, Dublin, in action against Galway. Picture Credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Rónán Mac Lochlainn

Like many others, Kieran Duff's love affair with Gaelic football, and specifically the Dubs, was sparked by events in 1974.

Dublin's successful championship campaign, which culminated in an All-Ireland final win over Galway, enthralled and enticed many within the capital and Duff was no different after a childhood that was exclusively immersed in soccer.

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His loyalties initially lied with Swords Celtic but with Heffo's Army taking hold, Duff began to develop a love for the game in Swords Vocational School and joining Fingallians was the next logical step for the talented forward.

"I was a big lump of a lad and used to play at centre-back or wing-back and I really enjoyed it," says Duff.

"It went well for me and there was never any shortage of games as we used to play in the Fingal leagues during the week and the county leagues at the weekend.

"By the time that I was 16, I was playing midfield for Fingallians in the top division in Dublin and coming up against the likes of Brian Mullins and Jimmy Keaveney and that was a great education for me.

"It was then that I would have come to the attention of 'Buster' Leaney, who was involved with the Dublin minors, and I was lucky enough to play in All-Ireland minor finals in 1978 and 1979," he added.

His progression to senior ranks was immediate as Dublin's senior loss to Kerry in 1979 represented the end of an era, with Duff and Barney Rock brought in for Dublin's National League campaign that autumn.

Duff made his debut against Cork in October 1979 as Kevin Heffernan looked to youth after successive All-Ireland defeats to the Kingdom.

"He [Heffernan] was a player's man and he really did everything, from coaching the team, to managing it and also being the psychologist.

"He had really good instincts and seemed to know what you were thinking all the time and it was just a pleasure to play under him," adds Duff.

Offaly dominated the following three years, however, before Dublin eventually got the better of their midland rivals with a superb display in the 1983 Leinster final.

The Dubs had struggled up until that point but a mixture of Offaly arrogance and Dublin's greater tactical acumen proved decisive on the day, according to Duff.

"We really should have lost to Meath on two occasions in the quarter-final and we didn't play particularly well against Louth in the semi-final either.

"However, we felt that Offaly paid us very little respect, with their manager Eugene McGee going down to watch Cork in the Munster Final before our match.

"We felt they may have taken their eye off the ball and with John Caffrey excelling in the third midfielder role, we beat them handy enough in the final."

A late, late Barney Rock goal at the Hill 16 end saved the Dubs in their All-Ireland semi-final, a replay that took place on Leeside.

1983-Cork-6-Duff.jpg
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Semi-Final Replay, Dublin v Cork, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 28th August 1983: Dublin's Ciarán Duff with the ball during the match at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Pic: Liam Mulcahy (Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection)

"We used to love playing on the road in those days, so after drawing with Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final we had no problems with travelling to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the replay.

"We stayed in Blarney the night before and I remember that Barney [Rock], myself and Joe [McNally] went for a quiet pint the night before the game and not one of the Dublin supporters in the pub recognised us.

"There were no training tops with our initials on them or anything like that, and back in those days, we were lucky to get a free pair of socks.

"Driving into Cork the following morning, the atmosphere was just unreal and seeing 'Hill 17' at the Blackrock End was a wonderful feeling," he said.

Duff kicked 1-3 as Dublin blitzed the Rebels, although their subsequent All-Ireland final win over Galway was a bitter-sweet one, given his second-half dismissal.

"At the time, I was disappointed in what happened but with time, you realise that winning the All-Ireland was not based on just one game and now I can look back with pride on my contribution in winning Sam Maguire.

"There was a lot of negativity after the match and I felt that Dublin were dealt with harshly by the authorities in Croke Park, as they had been previously with suspensions for Tony Hanahoe, Heffernan and Jimmy Keaveney.

"They wanted to make an example of us and when you consider that Offaly's Mick Fitzgerald got two months and missed no [intercounty] games after his reckless challenge on me in the Leinster final, suspending me for 12 months was totally excessive," he added.

Unperturbed, Duff returned to the fold as a new rivalry with Meath developed and dominated the football landscape in both Leinster and indeed the country for the from 1986 onward.

The Royals enjoyed the upper hand for the large part, although Duff scored crucial goals in Leinster final wins in both 1984 and 1989 and the contests and indeed his personal battles with Kevin Foley will live long in the memory.

"There was a serious rivalry with Meath, but we were also friendly with them as lads and the intensity of the first 15 minutes in games was unreal.

"Foley's job was to take me out of the game and we had a right few battles down the years.

"He wouldn't say an awful lot and I remember before a Railway Cup match for Leinster, Jack Boothman had to bring myself and Kevin into a room on our own just to make ourselves talk to each other."

Foley's name is etched into the minds of Dublin supporters, of course, for his crucial goal in the last game of the incredible 1991 four-game saga.

"I suppose one of the biggest regrets I have about not being heavily involved in the 1991 saga against them was watching Foley score the decisive goal in the fourth match as I can assure you, there's no way he would have scored it if I was playing as we probably would have been wrestling with each other down the other end!"

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27 August 2017; Former Dublin star Kieran Duff in the Hogan Stand before the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

With All Stars in 1987 and 1988, Duff's legacy is cast in stone, although the feeling persists that his intercounty career was truncated a touch prematurely.

However, once his game-time became increasingly limited, it was evident that he didn't figure in the plans of Dublin's new management team of Paddy Cullen, Pat O'Neill and Fran Ryder.

"I was only 30 when I made the decision to step down, but I really don't regret the decision as it was obvious that I didn't really feature in their plans.

"I think it's a good thing that I recognised that and made the decision myself and it allowed me to go back to my club and I played some good stuff with Fingallians for the next few years.

"I loved playing for Dublin and I love going to support them now.

"To me, Gaelic football has been such a positive experience and making the friends that I have has been such an important part of my life ever since I took up the game."

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