New book features memories of Offaly hurling's glory years

A new book by John Scally - 'The People’s Games: A GAA Compendium' - is a celebration of the magic of the GAA through stories from some of the people who populate it.

Among those featured is Offaly hurling legend Michael Duignan, a winner of All-Ireland hurling medals in 1994 and 1998.

An All-Star award winner in 1998, when Offaly defeated Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final, Duignan has been a pundit with RTÉ Sport for over 20 years. The Banagher native and former St Rynagh's player is now chairman of the Offaly GAA County Board.

The following extracts are taken from Scally's book.

'For Michael Duignan, the spring of 2020 was a particularly tough time. His 85-year-old father Peadar died after a short illness, unrelated to Covid-19. Peadar Duignan’s funeral in normal circumstances would have been a huge affair but unfortunately because of the social isolation protocols at the time it was just a small family affair.

'Despite the sadness and the deep vein of grief Michael can still see the light through the darkness. "He did everything for me. When I was in college in Waterford he would drive me down every Monday morning and still be back for work at 8am. He never said to me that he was proud of me but I know he was. He had a streak of mischief to him. In 1988 we were playing Galway in an All-Ireland semi-final. I went to first Mass that morning and when I got home he had the Galway flag up waiting for me!"

Asked about his difficult opponent, Duignan said: 'Although I didn’t mark him often Brian Lohan (Clare) was very tough to mark. They didn’t come any better. Willie O’Connor (Kilkenny) was another one that stands out. He knew a lot of tricks! When I came on to the scene the celebrated Galway half-back line were in their pomp: Pete Finnerty, Tony Keady and Gerry McInerney were pretty awesome individually and collectively. In the 1990s Offaly were a big power in hurling so if you were constantly marking Brian Whelahan or Kevin Kinahan in training, it really brought you on. Club hurling was also very strong in Offaly back then so when I was marking Martin Hanamy or Hubert Rigney so often, it also brought me on as a player'.

Recalling the characters he encountered during his playing career with Offaly, Duignan said: 'There were so many on that Offaly team but they were all characters in a different way like Daithí Regan and John Troy. But it is hard to go beyond Johnny Pilkington. My favourite story about him came the morning after we won the 1998 All-Ireland final. Some of us went for a quiet drink in Doheny & Nesbitt's. Somehow the Pat Kenny Show heard about it and rang the pub and asked for one of us to speak on the phone for the programme.

'To our surprise Johnny volunteered to do so because contrary to popular perception, he is a very serious lad and doesn’t normally put himself forward. He had a great time with Pat and he was taking the p**s out of Pat for being a 'great GAA man' which we all found hilarious.

'Pat’s last question was about Michael Bond because Johnny was the man who had been fingered for getting rid of Babs (Keating). ‘’Well now that he has won the All-Ireland, is Michael Bond’s job safe for next year?’’

‘Johnny paused dramatically before he said, "I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll keep him on or not".’

As for the funniest moment of his career, Duignan recalled: ‘My first All-Ireland semi-final in 1988 against Galway. That morning I went to first Mass and when I came home my mother had the breakfast ready. The nutritionists today would have freaked out because she gave me a big fry-up. The problem was that I was so nervous I couldn’t eat anything. My father was a very quiet man and he was reading the paper and he asked me "What’s wrong son?’’. I answered: ‘’I’m too nervous to eat anything.’’ He replied: ‘’Eat up. No use making a fool of yourself in Croke Park and being hungry as well".'

*John Scally’s book 'The People’s Games: A GAA Compendium' is available in all good bookshops now.

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