“This is why I came home. Hurling was the only reason" - journey home worth it for Duggan 5 months ago

“This is why I came home. Hurling was the only reason" - journey home worth it for Duggan

The stewards come into rescue him but Peter Duggan doesn’t need rescuing.

He has a smile on his face that says I could stay doing this forever.

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He’s standing there right, under the beaming sun in Thurles and he’s mobbed by Clare supporters, young and old, and every single one of them is giddy in his presence.

He’s signing hurls and jerseys and casts and, a good half an hour after the final whistle and, in the middle of a flock of youngsters who want a picture but are too shy to ask for one, he’s telling their parents it’s no bother and then he’s standing in for one.

The stewards come into rescue him but Peter Duggan doesn’t need rescuing.

“I’ll sign all these ones here and then I’ll head in.”

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But the stewards are in a hurry and Duggan is ushered away. The Clare supporters cheer and roar and, as he leaves - he's the last player on the pitch at this stage - as if it was possible, that smile grows even wider.

“This is why I came home,” he tells me fifteen minutes later outside the Clare dressing room.

"Hurling was the only reason to come home, days like this."

He had a good job in construction, he had some of his best friends over there but, having moved to Australia in late 2019, it was in between then and now when the Spancilhill native realised that hurling is hurling. He realised that an inter-county career is short and, as he thinks back on last year, as he remembers watching Clare games from a distance, he re-calls the itch that he just had to be scratch.

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"It was unreal over there. I made some friends for life.

"I remember this time two years ago, Clare played Wexford and I had ten or fifteen lads from Tipp, Kilkenny, Waterford all over watching the match. We were watching Tony putting the ball over the bar from everywhere and I remember Face-timing Tony after the game, it was late in the morning for us and all of us were just proud us punch roaring 'up Tony' down the phone.

"Look, it was heart-breaking in a way, but you were proud to say that you hurled with them lads down through the years."

And he's back in the middle of them now. It mightn't have been vintage Duggan in Clare's quarter final win over Wexford but, typical of the man, it was fire and brimstone, it was effective and it was the thundering intensity of a hurler who's given up a hell of a lot to come back.

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It was like the twin towers colliding, down in the Wexford full back line, when himself and Matthew O'Hanlon went toe-to-toe but afterwards, it was all hand-shakes and well-dones. One minute, they were tearing into one another, the next, he was thanking O'Hanlon for his sportsmanship.

18 June 2022; Peter Duggan of Clare in action against Matthew O'Hanlon of Wexford during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Clare and Wexford at the FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

"Matthew's helmet actually got stuck in my hand at one stage. I was very lucky that it actually came off, if it didn't come off, there could have been awful trouble there.

"I don't know how it managed to happen but yeah, it got stuck in between both joints.  Matthew in fairness to him, he helped me straight away. We got it out and there was no damage done but that's what you want in a hurling game.

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"You want to be hitting, belting all the way through and then smiling and shaking hands after a game. That's what happened, that's why we love hurling, with big strong lads and so be it."

"Wexford brought it to us. They were tough and hard as nails. Hard belts, fair belts and in such an intense game, it can take a while to get into it."

But get into it they did.

“You hurl for days like this. A vast majority of us have only played in Croke park three times. That was a goal for us to get back there. After being gone for two years, I didn't know if I'd be able to get back up to that standard. I still have a lot to go and a lot to improve on and I'll stay trying to do that.

"Over the years, sometimes we haven't performed when the pressure came on like that.  But it came on big time today, they threw everything at us and we still managed to pull out a result. Tony and Shane and a few others stood up when we needed them.

"But the whole panel did too and I'm proud of all of them. Like Aron Shanagher came in there - he's been in hard luck with injuries the last few months - but he was immense, he came on and scored 1-2, changed the game. I'm delighted for him because he practices like mad so fair play to him."

As for Duggan himself, even he doesn't know what the future holds.

"I might end up back out in Australia eventually."

But for now, he’s exactly where he wants to be