LAST year, though it featured several thousands of miles on the road, delivered memorable individual, club, inter-county and provincial victories, and Rebel defender Melissa Duggan wants to do it all again.
Since her debut for Cork in 2017, Duggan (23) has become a key motivational and playing figure in Ephie Fitzgerald’s side, and with three wins from their three Lidl NFL Division 1 games so far this year, things are looking bright for the Munster champions.
Last weekend’s clash with Mayo fell foul to the weather but the game has been re-fixed for tomorrow in Mallow, 3pm, and Duggan sees it as another significant step for the defending Lidl NFL Division 1 and TG4 Munster Senior champions to tread.
A pharmacy student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Duggan clocked up the rail miles as she kickstarted her inter-county dream from her Dublin base. But since the turn of the year, Cork is home again, and securing work experience in the south has given her a new lease of life.
“I was based in Dublin for the last few years but I’m on placement back home since the start of the year. Thankfully I’ve left Dublin behind me for a while,” said Duggan, who was named at left corner back on the 2019 TG4 All-Star team.
“It does get to you, all the travelling. The last year was really tough, continuously getting the train down and the train back up to Dublin the following morning. Sometimes there’d be a delay and you’d miss training after it all.
“I was the only one of the squad up in Dublin for a while too and when you are by yourself, it is tough. I did a good bit of training on my own too, but being back home now living in Cork, I’m excited by the year ahead, and I’m training away mad now.
“I don’t know myself! I’m living in the city too to make my life easier. I have no excuse not to be at every training and do all my gym work and everything. It’s so much handier to live in the same city.”
While Cork’s championship hopes ended with a TG4 All-Ireland Semi-Final defeat to Dublin – which they avenged in their last League outing – Duggan went on to have a dream end of the season. Her hometown club Doheny’s won the County Junior B final after losing the decider for three straight years.
She then won her first All Star to go with her Lidl team of the year award, while she had the great honour of captaining Munster to Interprovincial glory against Connacht before Christmas.
“You look back at last year and it was disappointing to lost to Dublin, but then people remind you of what you achieved. We won the league and Munster finals. You always think of the losses before you recall your achievements. Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at the overall picture.
“It was a fantastic year for club, for county and for me personally. It was lovely that all the hard work and dedication that you put in paid off in the end.
“The club win was fantastic, it meant so much to us. Dunmanway is a small town and we have small numbers on the books. To lose it three years in a row was devastating, but the girls showed huge dedication and commitment for the last few years.
“This year we have 30 on the panel compared to a few years ago when we struggled to put out a team. It’s great to see the game growing at underage and with the junior ladies team.
“I am one of the few Cork players who didn’t play all the way up in underage. I only started playing football at U14 level and I only played minor with Cork for one year and I didn’t play when I was in Leaving Cert.
“I made the West Cork team and that put me in contention for the senior team, so that was my breakthrough. The Dohenys club was a big part of that.
“Even for the younger girls round West Cork and in my own club, I keep telling them to always go to trials, keep practicing because you never know what’ll happen. You don’t have to be on a Cork U14 team to make it as a senior player.”
Galway’s win over Dublin last weekend saw them leapfrog Cork on scoring difference in the Lidl Division 1 standings, but with tomorrow’s game in hand, Duggan is happy that they’re progressing nicely.
“Since we came back in January there has been such a positive vibe in the group. We know not every game will be perfect and we are learning a lot from every day out. We want to improve on every aspect of our game.
“To get a win against Westmeath at the start really grounded our feet. It gave the younger players a chance in what might have been their senior debut.
“Against Dublin it was great to play in Croke Park again. Some of the girls hadn’t played there and the chance to see what it’s like is very important. And to get a win that day was a fantastic boost for us and it definitely lifted our confidence.
“Hopefully we can keep improving in the league and into the Munster championship in the summer, but there is still so much football to play.”