Refreshed from three months touring Asia, Cork star Melissa Duggan is enjoying her football more than ever – and that’s good news for the Rebels
SWAPPING the grey, damp skies of an Irish winter for the tropical climate of Asia for three months was one of the best decisions Melissa Duggan says she has made.
This trip had been on her mind for some time and last winter Melissa and her twin sister Michelle set off on their adventure.
They spent one month exploring Thailand. Then it was Cambodia, onto Vietnam and a motorbike trip down the east coast. Singapore was their next destination before hanging out in the paradise of Bali where they were joined by their sister Aprille, and finishing with a few days in Dubai.
‘It was always something I wanted to do and I loved it,’ Melissa says.
‘It was a break from everything – from work, football, college.
‘Looking back I was on the go for seven or eight years. It was always training, college, football, so it was great to have a clean break. It does refresh you, and you would be more eager to come back and get going again.’
The change of scenery and climate worked. The Dunmanway dynamo’s batteries are fully recharged.
‘When I came back I was really, really looking forward to getting out on the pitch again, putting on the football boots, getting back to training,’ she says.
‘It’s been great since I've been back. I am really enjoying it this year more than other years. I want to keep it simple: train, play games and have fun with the girls.’
The Cork star missed the club championship with Dohenys but felt her time touring Asia was a break she needed from football.
Her first training session with the Cork senior team was in January 2017 and since then the 2019 All-Star has been an ever-present. The woman from Ballyboy outside Dunmanway has worked hard to develop into one of the best defenders in the country.
She juggled her pharmacy studies at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin with inter-county football, religiously making the mid-week trip from the capital to the real capital for training sessions. Trains, taxis, lifts and timetables, on top of college and inter-county football, all that eventually takes its toll.
Melissa graduated, top of her class, as a pharmacist from RCSI in 2020, worked in Dublin for a spell, moved on to study a Masters in Health Economics at the University of Galway, and now – after a stop-off in Asia – she is back home in Dunmanway and working as a locum pharmacist around West Cork and Cork city.
‘The best comparison is like it’s subbing as a teacher,’ she explains.
‘I can pick up different shifts in different pharmacies. One day I could be in Bandon, the next day I could be in Macroom. You can book day by day or week by week, and I just find it works for me now with training and matches.’
Refreshed from her travels, living at home again has real advantages when it comes to Melissa’s inter-county career. As well as easy access to her mom Anne’s dinners, with Cork now back training in Cloughduv Melissa’s travel time has been drastically reduced.
‘You weren’t getting your full recovery and full sleep when you were heading back to Dublin late after training and you were working the next morning,’ she explains.
‘It’s great to be at home, a relief to be closer to training and I definitely feel fresher and more rested. There’s more time for recovery too.
‘With training so close now the only fear is that I might be late for it,’ she laughs.
Cork boss Shane Ronayne told the Star Sport Podcast last month that fans will see ‘a new Melissa this year’, and a revitalised Duggan is good news for the Rebels, especially in this transitional phase. Cork have lost several leaders over the winter – Orla Finn, Martina O’Brien, Áine Terry O’Sullivan, Orlagh Farmer and Eimear Scally have all stepped away from the panel. With such a drain of experience there is extra responsibility of players like Melissa to set standards and lead by example on and off the pitch. In their Lidl NFL Division 1 opener, a win away to Mayo, Melissa was one of only six Cork players who had started the All-Ireland quarter-final loss to the Connacht county last summer. There were five senior debutants that day, too.
‘It’s the first year that I have felt my role has changed on the team,’ the 26-year-old West Cork woman says.
‘We always had the older players there, like Martina, Orla Finn, Orlagh Farmer, there was always someone more senior. When we got back in December it was like starting a new team, I didn’t know some of the names!
‘It’s been refreshing though, because the young ones are full of energy so I’m trying to keep up with them now,’ she adds, and that’s a compliment considering the former Doheny AC athlete is renowned for her pace, engine and stamina.
‘These girls are bursting with energy, I have never seen anything like it, they are so quick and so fast and so skillful, so they are all putting it up to us at training. That’s raising the level,’ she says.
‘The squad has changed so I’m trying to get to know everyone, have chats one on one. Because I am one of the older players, it's important to make an effort to get to know the new players because they are stepping into a senior environment and that can be daunting. It’s important for the senior players to really make an effort and it’s important to gel together for the season ahead.’
Even though the new season is still stretching its legs there is a spring to Melissa’s steps already.
‘I am really enjoying football,’ she says.
‘The last few years you put pressure on yourself to perform well, to do the right things, and the pressure can get to you a bit. This year I am stripping it all back, and am going out there to enjoy it. I will take it as it comes, enjoy it all, see if I can develop more as a player.
‘Shane (Ronayne) is great at training, he wants you to fix the things you might have done wrong in the last game; he is really encouraging you to push yourself and still enjoy it.’
Keeping it simple and enjoying football is Melissa’s motto this year. If the former Munster Ladies’ Footballer of the Year hits top speed this season, it will help smoothen Cork’s transition and push them closer to where they want to be. Having spent a day in Bali climbing Mount Batur, an active volcano, a refreshed Melissa is primed to explode for the Rebels. When that happens even their young guns will have trouble keeping up.