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Gavin Duffy weighing up return to GAA after release from Connacht

The fullback played his final game at The Sportsground last weekend and is on the verge of completely retiring.

CONNACHT FULLBACK GAVIN DUFFY discovered, in March, that he would not be offered a new contract. With the province finishing up their season away to Ospreys, on Saturday, the 32-year-old has a big decision to make on the next step in his sporting career.

Duffy has several offers, from Premiership and Championship clubs, in England and has done some punditry and sideline reporting for Newstalk this season. Slowly coming to terms with the end of an 11-season association with Connacht Rugby, Duffy is considering a full-time return to his GAA roots.

Gavin Duffy with his daughter Jessica after the game Gavin Duffy salutes the Connacht fans after his final home game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Ballina native played minor football for Mayo in the late 1990s and played in the losing All-Ireland final to Down in 1999. Now based in Galway, Duffy has turned out for Knocknacarra-Salthill on a few occasions in recent years. If he opts to step back from rugby, he aims to throw himself into chasing success on the GAA pitch with the 2006 All-Ireland football club champions.

Box-office as the signing is, Duffy will effectively be replaced at Connacht by a player one year older than him and currently recovering from elbow surgery. The fact that his replacement is 100-times capped New Zealand international, and World Cup winner, Mils Muliaina will hopefully soften the blow of being released somewhat.

Duffy is not staying around to be part of the Kiwi-led revolution, under head coach Pat Lam, at Connacht, he says, is down to the simple fact that he has not been offered a new contract. He told TheScore.ie: ”When rugby is going great, you are on top of the world and everything is brilliant but when it’s not, and you’re not happy with the environment, it affects not just you but your wife and children. We’re very happy in Galway and to come out of that area would be a decision we won’t take lightly.

There have been expressions of interest from some of these [English] clubs. I just have to see, next week, just how serious they are and how serious am I in terms of pursuing it. It’s a big decision. I have plans made, either way, so it is about assessing what options I have outside of rugby, what career I would go into and there’s obviously Knocknacarra. That’s something I want to do while I’m still able to move around the Gaelic pitch… If I do move, it has to be the right decision.

Duffy added, “I’ve known for a while now that they wanted to change the squad but it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s still an emotional stage and last Saturday certainly was, my last game at The Sportsground. It was always going to end and, the way I am, even if I was 40 I would think I had another season.”

He insists that he bears no ill will towards Lam or any of the senior management at Connacht about the decision to move him, and the likes of Dan Parks and Frank Murphy, on. “I can only speak on my own behalf,” he said, “but that’s the nature of professional sport. I’ve seen guys in the last year — Brett Wilkinson and Kyle Tonetti — who would have liked to play for another four or five years. I’ve played [professionally] for 13 years and whether it was this year or next year, at some stage it was going to come to an end with Connacht.

Gavin Duffy leaves the field Gavin Duffy leaves the field after his final home game. Source: INPHO/James Crombie

Duffy continued, “I’ll take a week and talk to my wife and decide what we are doing in the immediate future. It’s more than just a rugby decision, of course. We’re very happy living in Galway. We have a two-and-a-half year old [Jessica] and another baby due on 30 June. There’s a bit more to consider at this stage than, just, what’s best for my career… I have a fair idea but I want to make sure what exactly is on the table and what has been offered. It’s obviously an emotional time for me so I have to be sure to take a bit of time to make the best decision for myself and my family.”

Duffy says he has not lost that drive for training and matches but he must also decide in what direction to focus his sporting energies. He said, “I feel as if I’m young enough to play sport at a high level, whether that is rugby or with my local GAA club. I feel I have something to offer sport. It is just a question of whether I want to play professional sport. If not, I will still play to the highest level I can with my local team, Salthill-Knocknacarra.

Asked what position he prefers on the football field, Duffy joked about his limited mobility and suggested he would make ‘the perfect targetman’ up front.

Read: Paul O’Connell on injuries, the 2015 World Cup, Mils Muliaina and his ‘John Hayes attitude’

Read: Andrew Trimble voted the IRUPA Player of the Year

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Patrick McCarry

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