/US-based All-Ireland final ref Duggan blows his final whistle aged 79 – Independent.ie

US-based All-Ireland final ref Duggan blows his final whistle aged 79 – Independent.ie

On the weekend before last, Hugh Duggan blew his final whistle as a referee when he took charge of three games in the USGAA college finals in Las Vegas.

At 79, Duggan, who sent off Páidí Ó Sé as Kerry hammered Dublin in the 1979 All-Ireland final, has decided to retire from officiating and a lead role in educating referees in the United States.

And Purdue University’s outright success in Las Vegas was his final bow as he officiated three games, two 20-minute-a-side games and a further 30-minute-a-side game, 140 minutes in total.

His only complaint? The wind blew hard and, combined with the sun in the desert city, his face got a little burned.

Duggan has lived between San Francisco and Tampa since moving out in January 1981, more than half his life now as he points out.

The Armagh man has defied time to continue reffing to a high level throughout the States and act in an administrative capacity as a tutor and a co-ordinator for his own south-east division.

“I wouldn’t have caught too many players running fast,” he laughs. “It’s like riding a bike, you just get slower at it. I know the rules as well as anyone here, I’ve been a tutor since I came,” he adds.

“When I tell people I am 79 years of age they shake their heads and ask why the hell I am still refereeing!

“Out here the pitches are shorter, 130 metres by 80 metres, saving quite a few yards which is always a help. I know how to position myself. I don’t sprint all the time when a ball is kicked up the field because very often it’s kicked right back.”

Duggan’s rise as a referee in the 1970s was rapid. He only started at inter-county level in 1974 but in 1979 he really accelerated, taking charge of the league final between Cork and Roscommon, an Ulster final between Monaghan and Donegal and then the All-Ireland final itself.

“I had a good league final that year. You are only as good as the teams that are contesting it. I had been expecting to get the minor final but I got the senior final. All the other referees must have been sick or something! The All-Ireland final was the only time I refereed a senior championship game in Croke Park,” he recalls.

Sendings-off were rare in All-Ireland finals in those days so Páidí’s dismissal was significant.

“He never spoke to me for three years after,” Duggan recalls. “The referees brought out an instructional video after that final and there were 20 incidents where players should have been sent off and Páidí was in 12 of them. What he got away with!

In San Fransisco with the Kerry team years later, he got up at a function and apologised, according to Duggan.

And years later, while home and touring west Kerry, Duggan called into Páidí’s bar, stayed locally overnight and they had “a good session for a few hours”.

Duggan left Ireland for “personal reasons” at the beginning of 1981, intending to stay away for only 12 months but he became immersed in refereeing out there, by his reckoning the only All-Ireland final referee based permanently in the States.

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“Because I had refereed an All-Ireland final, even when I made a mistake, they (players) accepted it. I got more respect than most. There has never been an All-Ireland final referee out here living. I was strict. I changed the refereeing scene when I came out here. I didn’t take any s**t from anybody. I reffed like I reffed at home, controlled the game,” he recalled.

His last games, the colleges, were played out in blissful silence, courtesy of the colleges’ strict enforcement of ‘no dissent’ from any of their players.

“They are not allowed any dissent of any sort. If any player gives you dissent, they are removed from the field, you don’t have to do anything. The same with the coach, if the coach gives you abuse he’s taken of the sideline.

“I wish they would do something like that in Ireland to show the referees a bit of respect.”

As a tutor, he estimates travelling 30,000 miles in 2019 in an 11-day trip, giving classes and demonstrations.

He helped to set up a system of coordinators in each of the 10 divisions that lightens the load in terms of delivery of education and is happy his timing is right.

“Every September the national finals are on and if there was something on I couldn’t go because of my refereeing commitments. This summer I’m in London for a wedding and another in Armagh. I’ve done my time.”

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