Doheny defender Melissa Duggan shared her thoughts on Cork’s encouraging 2018 campaign with DENIS HURLEY
COMBINING studies at the RSCI in Dublin with Cork ladies’ football commitments have made Melissa Duggan one of Iarnród Éireann’s most regular customers, but she doesn’t see it as a hardship.
The Dohenys star earned an All-Star nomination after playing a key role as the Rebels reached the All-Ireland final, making all those train journeys – down at 4pm on a Wednesday for training, back up a 5.45am the next morning to be in for lectures – worth it.
Currently in her fourth year of a five-year course, next year means placement in the second semester and she will try to engineer something in Cork. For now, it’s up and down the tracks, but she acknowledges the positive attitude of Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald and selector James Masters.
‘It’s not easy,’ she says, ‘but you get used to it, it becomes a habit.
‘I don’t mind coming down for training, it’s good to be with the girls. I’d normally have training with the college team on a Monday night here up until around March and I do my gym work here too.
‘James and Ephie are great, they tell me not to come down when I’m not able or if they’re doing an easy night they’ll leave it up to me, it takes a lot of pressure off.
‘When I was in my first year on the panel, I wanted to come down to every session but now that I’m going into my third year the management remind me to do what’s best for me. During the spring, when you’ve matches every week, you don’t want to burn yourself out.’
In March of this year, the RCSI won the Donaghy Cup fifth-tier intervarsity competition, meaning they will be in the Moynihan Cup next year.
‘It’s nice to train with different people,’ Duggan says.
‘Some would have given up playing for their clubs so it’s nice to see them back and encourage them.
‘It’s playing for the college that I show I can be a leader. In my first two years with Cork, I was new on the scene and fairly quiet, so playing for the college is good to be able those skills and then transfer them back to the Cork team.’
That desire to improve has served her well so far, having taken her chance in the league in 2017.
‘In my first year, I wasn’t sure if was good enough,’ she says, ‘but the management are great, they trust you so much, they look to get you to improve.
‘One aspect that has been really noticeable is strength and conditioning, it has paid off hugely and I think that physicality can be seen in tackles.
‘When you’re playing regularly against top-class players, you have to make sure that you’re up to that standard.’
While the expectation might have been that 2018 would be a year of transition for Cork, they regained their Munster title and made it to the final in Croke Park, losing to Dublin. It was an occasion that will live long in Duggan’s memory, despite the result. ‘Definitely,’ she says, ‘the All-Ireland was a huge highlight, especially when it was my first time playing in the final.
‘Even though we lost, I learned so much. We met up in October to talk and see how we can improve, while it was still fresh in the mind The whole day, I’ve never experienced anything like that before, it was just fantastic. To play in Croke Park with 50,000 people there was amazing. On the day, it didn’t go our way but Dublin are a top-class team. We definitely gained more than we lost over the year as a whole.’
In terms of preparation for such a game, management ensured that Duggan was ready for her task.
‘Obviously, I was in Dublin and I had re-arrange my times so that I could come down for training but I missed two Friday nights. I was doing my own gym work and they told me I’d be marking Noelle Healy so to concentrate on that and watch what she did.
‘It was a good way to get me focused, looking at her style and marking players that play like her in training.
‘In the week coming up to it, you’d nearly forget about the occasion but the team came up on Saturday night and I met them at the hotel and that was really nice, we had a bonding session and did a few activities, it totally eased any tension that was there.
‘Then, on the Sunday morning, we went for a walk and it was good to forget about the game but as soon as we got the Garda escort to the stadium and we saw the crowds, the nerves began to kick in, driving into the stadium was very nerve-wracking but once I was in the dressing room all of that went away, I got my head down and I was able to focus.’
Having held Healy scoreless in the final, Duggan was rewarded with an All-Star nomination, something she admits came as a pleasant surprise.
‘I wasn’t really expecting it,’ she says. ‘When you go out as a defender, you want to make sure the player you’re marking doesn’t score and that you can play well. It was a nice bonus to be nominated at the end of the year, there were a good lot of us nominated and it was an enjoyable night.’
Prior to the awards, Duggan did get to pick up a medal with Dohenys as they won the West Cork junior B title, defeating O’Donovan Rossa by 3-10 to 1-9, the perfect response to defeat to Abhainn Dalla in the county junior C decider.
‘Obviously, we would have loved to have won the county final,’ Duggan says.
‘The motivation was there in the West Cork junior B final, the girls had been very dedicated all year and it was nice to have something to show for it at the end of the year.’