The day Duggan delivered for Rossies

CONNACHT SFC SEMI-FINAL:

The day  Duggan delivered for Rossies

Gerry Lohan goals to win the 2001 title and Derek Duggan’s free to bring the 1991 decider to a replay.

Those scores have sustained hope within Roscommon football in the dark times. Days like 2009 when Mayo led 3-10 to 0-1 at half-time and went on to inflict a 20-point hammering.

Duggan’s score came in a time before widespread television coverage and coming in the midst of a Mayo-Roscommon rivalry, when the sides met in seven of the nine Connacht finals between 1985 and ’93; maybe that’s why his score that day in Castlebar has become one of those moments which lends itself to exaggeration. Against the wind, with the last kick of the game and a point down, the 19-year-old in his debut season scored the greatest free on Connacht football’s history. But from where?

“It’ll soon be a kick out now,” he said. “I get people from everywhere talking to me about it. I’m amazed so many people can associate with it. Years ago I got the radio recording if it. Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh was covering the game and you’d take a lot from what he would say because he’s so descriptive. He had it down as 68 yards against the wind. That’s nearly the most accurate description. It was definitely over 60 yards.”

In the replay they beat Mayo by two points but their neighbours’ spirit had been broken in Castlebar. For a teenager with the world before him it would be his only Connacht title but that score will stay with him forever.

“It was level going into the last minute and Mayo got a 50. It came up short and bundled around the square. Liam McHale grabbed a hold of it and stuck it over the bar which put Mayo a point up going into injury-time.

“Gay Sheeran kicked out the ball and Seamus Killoran caught it and was fouled by Willie Joe Padden. The free was over on the stand side at midfield. Mattie Reilly grabbed the ball and kept calling me out and stole seven or eight yards by the time I got there.

“At the time, when I was inside, I made two or three runs for a short kick because I thought it was too far out but he kept calling me and had a word in my ear when I got there — basically everything Mattie said to me was a word in my ear. He was a clubmate of mine in Castlerea, St Kevin’s, and had confidence in my ability. Funnily enough after the chat and after I’d lined up the ball, it didn’t seem too far out and I felt I had the range.”

Was it the confidence he gave you? “Well he said to me I better put the ball over and ‘do it for me’. He felt he had messed up for the McHale score and left it up to me.

“A local commentator Seamus Duke was on Shannonside FM, my parents kept all the clippings and radio recordings, when I lined up the ball he said what am I at and I hadn’t a hope. It had plenty of length and distance. Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh said it was still rising when it went over the bar but I don’t know if that’s true. I just hit it perfectly, on the button.”

He kicked another monster in the Hyde Park replay from beyond the 45 near the sideline. From then on there would be only one winner.

There was heartbreak in the All-Ireland semi-final though. Meath pipped them by a point and it signalled a sharp decline in Roscommon’s fortunes.

“It was hugely disappointing, particularly for the older lads like Paul Earley, Tony McManus, John Newton, Seamus Killoran, Pat Doorey... there were an awful lot of experienced men on that team.

“Some of the team gave it another lash but then they started to slip away. They moulded us into a solid team and we were always in Division 1. A lot of those lads went away and we dwindled away until the early 2000s.”

Duggan’s own career also came up short. In the form of his life, he ended the 2000 season as top scorer of the Division 1 teams in the National Football League but picked up a back injury playing for the Garda club in Dublin. It took three years to come back and in the first round of the club championship he snapped his cruciate.

It was time to call it a day but despite living in Longford, he still keeps a close eye on home. And this weekend’s game against Mayo does not fill him with confidence.

“It will be tough this year compared to most year. On any given year Roscommon fancy themselves in Connacht no matter who they play. What makes it really difficult this year is that Mayo have developed into a top side and are really in the top tier. Sometimes Mayo might be the top team in Connacht but were not a top ranked team in Ireland. Now I honestly think, even though Cillian O’Connor will be a massive loss to them, that Mayo can beat any team in the country.

“They’re not scarred from last year’s final defeat and their mindset is unlike other years. Other Mayo teams who lost in All-Ireland finals, it might take them a few years to recover but this team has already got stronger. I don’t think they got enough credit for what they did to Galway. I don’t think too many teams would have been able to do that to Galway.

“If Roscommon can stay in the game until half time, the doubts might slip into Mayo. If Mayo get scores early on it will be very difficult to stay with them because they don’t have Mayo’s experience.

“A win would give Roscommon something to thrive on. Equally so a good solid performance where they stood up would do great things. I’m not saying a beating is on the cards but Division 1 versus Division 3 is a big gap. I’ve been talking to people involved and there’s a good buzz in the camp. They’ve been doing reasonably well in challenge matches.”

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