February 27, 1995
The Great Jimmy Duggan
And his part in taking Galway Hurling back to the top
These days G.A.A. teams make regular trips to the United States. It is a common occurrence, an annual event. Back in the 1950s, however, it was a different story. Then journeys across the Atlantic for gaelic teams were very much the exception. In 1951 Jimmy Duggan (not to be mistaken for the famous 60s footballer of the same name) was on the Galway hurling panel which travelled to New York, their reward for winning the National League "Home" title that year.
It was a journey he fondly remembers. "It was a wonderful opportunity for us all to see a little of the world. We went to America with the Meath footballers who had also won the League. I remember it was the first time I had ever travelled on a plane. We flew out there and returned by ship. We were there for three weeks and played games in New York and Boston. I was only 21 at the time so it was all new and exciting". One of the games the Galwaymen played in the Big Apple was the National League final (proper) against a local selection, a match the Tribesmen won with only two points to spare (2-11 to 2-8). It was the highlight of an unforgettable odyssey into the new world.
Jimmy Duggan was to go to enjoy a long eventful career in hurling. He played the game well into his forties, appeared in three All-Ireland finals and became widely regarded as one of the best players of his era. As a skilful, pacy half forward, Duggan had few equals and some indication of his standing in the game was evidenced in his selection to play in the 1965 Cardinal Cushing games in New York, Connecticut and Boston, along with three hurling legends Christy Ring, Wexford's Tom Neville and Offaly's Paddy Molloy. Recently Jimmy received another accolade when he was chosen for the Galway hurling "Hall of Fame" Award, something he was surprised yet happy to receive. "I was very surprised with the award. It was very nice to get it after all these years", he says.
The Galway City native played Senior hurling for his club, Liam Mellows, for thirty years, continuing on into his mid forties helped by his undiminished love for the game and his enthusiasm for the hard slog on the training pitch. A non-smoker, Jimmy was a regular on the Senior Galway hurling team for over fifteen years, always guaranteed to give nothing less than 100% commitment and effort. The '51 National League success was a victory to be savoured as was the win over Wexford in the 1958 Oireachtas final but Duggan suffered more disappointments than most when he helped Galway to three All-Ireland finals and ended up on the losing side on each occasion.
In 1953 Galway shocked Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final only to lose by four points to Cork on the first Sunday in September. "It was a big surprise when we beat Kilkenny. Few would have given us much of a chance before the game but we played exceptionally well and scored two goals in the second half and in the closing stages we were leading by a point. Jim Langton who was a well known freetaker stepped up to take a free. He would have easily put it over the bar but he went for a goal and it was blocked and Kilkenny didn't have a chance to get an equaliser after that. It was the first time Galway had reached an All-Ireland since 1928 so, naturally, we were delighted with ourselves", he recalls.
Undaunted by the build up to the All-Ireland final and 70,000 plus crowd, Galway gave a very good account of themselves against a Cork team captained by Christy Ring. The scoreline of 3-3 to 0-8 suggests Cork were rarely troubled, yet their win was only secured in the closing stages. "We played them very well until we lost one of our best players, Mick Burke, who got injured in a famous incident involving Christy Ring. His injury was a blow to us, it badly affected our performance and for me, was the turning point of the game. Mick was a key man for us because he kept the shackles on Christy Ring up to then. They won with a few points to spare but they only scored one of their goals in the closing stages of the game".
Then, as now, Galway were guaranteed a place in the All-Ireland semi-final and on occasions received a bye straight into the final. Such was the case in 1955 and '58 when Wexford and Tipperary provided the opposition in respective finals. "We didn't disgrace ourselves in either. We played well but we just weren't as sharp as we might have been if we had played as many games as Wexford and Tipperary and that was one of our problems. It was good for us to get a chance to play in the final but the lack of games meant we were not as sharp as we might have been. Galway teams then played in the Munster Championship for a few years but it didn't work out and they then opted out of Munster and again took part in the All-Ireland series", he says.
Now retired from his job as manager of Kelly Office Printing, Nile Lodges, Salthill, Jimmy Duggan can look back on a life immersed in the game of hurling. he grew up in College Road in Galway City, which provided the backdrop for some of his most glorious moments in the game. His brothers Sean and Paddy were also top notch hurlers and played alongside him in the club and Galway colours. Their sister Monica played camogie for Galway for almost twenty years. "It was only natural that hurling was in my blood. I grew up playing the game and on the College Road team which won the Galway Senior hurling title in 1892 and '83 I had grand-uncles", he explains.
In 1947 Jimmy captained the Liam Mellows Minor team to a county title and two years later he was a regular on the Senior fifteen. Between 1955 and 1970 Duggan helped Liam Mellows to four county titles ('55, '56,'68 and '70.) in addition to a spate of West Board Championships. By 1949 Jimmy had become a regular feature on the Galway Junior team. He played in a Junior All-Ireland semi-final before graduating onto the Senior county panel where he remained a regular until the mid 60's. Some measure of his reputation can be gleamed from his selection of a number of representative teams. In 1959 and '60 he was chosen to play on the Rest of Ireland team against the reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary and Waterford. Jimmy was also picked for Ireland against the Combined Universities in 1955 and '56.
Looking back on his career, what was the one moment that stands out for him? "Our victory over Wexford in the Oireachtas final in 1958 was a bit special. The Oireachtas was a major competition in those days and attracted big crowds. Wexford were hot favourites to win but we never played as well. We ended up winning by twelve or fourteen points", recalls Jimmy.
Towards the end of his career, Jimmy Duggan combined his played duties with refereeing and in characteristic fashion he proved highly adept in this role as well, taking charge of many high profile games. "Even though I was playing for Liam Mellows, Galway and Connacht teams, I refereed many county Championships, intercounty and interprovincial games. I was in charge of the 1964 All-Ireland Minor hurling final, the 1965 All-Ireland Under 21 final and the Railway Cup final of 1966. I was refereeing for a long time and enjoyed it. I had a love for the game and I wanted to make a contribution besides playing. Referees are essential and not everybody wants to do it". Jimmy also made a contribution through a series of important administrative roles he held, including Chairman of the Galway City Coiste na n_g, Chairman of Galway West G.A.A. Board, Vice-Chairman of Galway County G.A.A. Board for three years.
Married to Ann with six children, Peter, Collette, Dolores, Martina, Fidelma and Seamus, Jimmy Duggan retains a passionate interest in Galway hurling. He is delighted with the way the game has developed in the county and is eagerly looking forward to the McCarthy Cup crossing the Shannon once more. "There was always a great tradition of hurling in Galway and in recent years that tradition has been built upon. The County Board has put a lot of time and resources into promoting the game and the schools and colleges have played their part as well. Galway were unlucky not to win a few more All-Irelands and I am sure it won't be long until another title is picked up. The talent is there".
Written by Hogan Stand Magazine
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