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'I was fascinated listening to stories about my dad and it'd be nice to get Limerick back to those heights again'

Blues captain Shane Duggan on his time in England, learning his trade in the League of Ireland and his mission to bring the good times back to Markets Field.

Duggan has gone on to captain his hometown club.
Duggan has gone on to captain his hometown club.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

SHANE DUGGAN ALWAYS felt it was inevitable that he would one day don the blue of Limerick Football Club.

His father, Ger, played a significant role as the Shannonsiders lifted the league title in 1980 and the FAI Cup two years later — the last time they’ve got their hands on either piece of silverware.

As a boy growing up in Norwood Park, he learned all about those glory days and dreamt of emulating them.

“I heard a lot of the stories about my dad down through the years,” he tells The42 this week.

“About when Limerick were really successful, winning leagues and that. I was fascinated listening to them and it would be nice to get Limerick back to those heights again in the future.”

Source: retroloi/YouTube

Although football was his first love, there was also a strong rugby connection in the family and his brother Ger Jr would line for Ireland at U18 level. Shane dabbled with the oval ball among other sports, but, having played for local side Fairview Rangers from the age of five, he began to attract attention as a talented footballer.

After appearing in the Kennedy Cup, he was invited to spend time at a number of English clubs. Southampton were particularly keen and several visits across the Irish Sea followed.

“I was close to signing for them, but it didn’t materialise,” he explains. “When I was over and back with clubs at that time, I never really saw myself staying there. I went to Southampton and they had a lot of interest but I remember them ringing my mother and saying they didn’t think I wanted to be there.”

His club then got a call from Plymouth Argyle and a week’s trial turned into a two-and-a-half years stay.

“I don’t think I went over with the best attitude,” Duggan admits. “I always thought I was going home. The first week or two in Plymouth, I didn’t know if it was going to be for me but one or two other Irish lads signed as well so that made it a bit easier. Then after a while, I settled in and I was fine.”

Tony Pulis and Ian Holloway came and went as managers during his time before Paul Sturrock took over. In May 2008, he brought the youngster into his office and explained that his contract would not be extended. Ex-Scotland striker Sturrock offered to help find him a club in League One, but Duggan wasn’t having it.

“I was a bit pissed off to be honest, so I just said ‘No, it doesn’t matter’ and I ended up coming home,” he recalls. “Looking back at it now, I was probably a bit foolish as he could have helped me out and got me a good standard club.”

Portsmouth v Plymouth Argyle - FA Cup 4th Round Duggan regrets not taking Sturrock's help. Source: Getty Images

Still in his teens, Duggan found himself on a plane to Ireland and feeling unsure of what the future held. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if he was an aspiring footballer just starting off today, a different route would probably appeal more.

“I remember when I first came back to the League of Ireland, there weren’t really many young lads and it was mainly full-time professionals,” he says. “You wouldn’t have seen a lot of 17 or 18-year-olds playing, barring maybe at UCD.

Nowadays, the average age has gone down massively. They’re all 21 or 22 and if you perform well you’re going to be in the shop window. I’d definitely recommend staying in the league and if you can get to one of the top LOI clubs you’re playing in Europe and the move across will come.”

As they have done for countless young footballers, UCD offered Duggan his first experience in senior football as manager Pete Mahon attempted to claw his way out of a relegation scrap.

“I think there were only ten or 11 games left in the season, and they were down the bottom of the league. But they had a fantastic squad with the likes of Greg Bolger and Ronan Finn and that coming through at the same time. I went up for a couple of months and got a taste of the LOI there.”

Shane Duggan During the UCD days. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Those performances persuaded Paul Doolin to sign him for Cork City in early 2009. Even at his tender age, the midfielder saw plenty of action and helped the Leesiders to a third-place finish in the Premier Division. There were major issues off-the-field, however.

“I was only 19, when I went down,” he says. “I had played games with UCD the season before but this was a totally different environment. Paul Doolin was brilliant, to be fair.

“With the squad of players we had that season, we probably should have won the league. I remember there was a point midway through the season when we were nine or ten points clear but there were financial issues and fellas weren’t getting paid. Then the likes of Joe Gamble, Colin Healy and Denis Behan were all sold. We still finished third and got a European spot but we ended up getting kicked out of the league along with Derry City.

I got a lot of game-time, which was great being 19. Paul put me in a lot and, with the squad that was there, it was brilliant.”

The courts enforced a winding up order and the club had to enter the First Division under the name ‘Cork City FORAS Co-op’, but Duggan chose to stick around and help them return to the top flight the second time of asking.

“It was disappointing when the club went down but I ended up staying with them and we came back up in the second year. They just went from strength-to-strength from there. Cork City is sports mad so they were always going to bounce back, and I wanted to be part of it. I didn’t sign in time for the first game of the season and they went up to Brandywell on a minibus with about 13 or 14 lads who never really played in the league. They ended up getting a draw that day.”

A year later, City won the second tier title under Tommy Dunne. He enjoyed two more seasons back among the big boys with Cork, but felt the time had come to join Limerick in October 2013.

Jake Carroll and Shane Duggan In action for Cork City with St Pat's pair Jake Carroll and Chris Forrester in 2012. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I always thought I would play for Limerick one day,” he admits. “To be fair, I loved it down in Cork but Tommy had got the sack and a few lads were leaving with Gearoid Morrissey going to England and Daryl Horgan heading to Dundalk as well as a couple of others.

“Limerick were on to me the whole time and Stuart Taylor had taken over. They had a bit of a budget and they were putting a good squad together as they had a plan to try push on. It was my hometown club so I felt the time was right for a change and I’m here ever since.”

In the past four years, Duggan has become a mainstay in the Limerick team and is the current club captain. There have been ups and downs with relegation in 2015 and immediate promotion 12 months later, but the 29-year-old is desperate to bring the good times back to Markets Field.

It’s a great honour to captain your hometown club,” he says. “I don’t feel too much pressure, although I put myself under more pressure than anyone else because I want the club to do well. I know what it means to have a successful team around the city and I desperately want that, as do the fans and everyone involved in the club.

“Everything is there — the facilities and Markets Field are fantastic — it’s just up to us to make things happen. I’m going to push as hard as I can to make that happen because Limerick as a city and as a football club should be up there competing at the top.

“If you’re doing that, you’ll see the supporters coming out. There’s an excellent fan base and we’ve shown in a couple of games that we can have three or four thousand there if it’s a big night. If Markets Field is hopping, there aren’t many other grounds around the league that are like it.”

On the first day of pre-season, the club was rocked by news that manager Neil McDonald had left. U19s boss Tommy Barrett stepped up to fill the position and player recruitment was a bit of a scramble as the kick-off loomed but Duggan is optimistic moving forward.

“It was a very difficult situation at the start of the season. It was hard on the club and especially Tommy as he had to get a squad assembled really quickly.

“I think he brought in a lot of experienced players while giving the youth a chance as well. For some of the younger lads, it’s their first season involved and they need to get games. It’s going to take them a while to adapt to the league but I think they’re doing well at the moment.”

Tommy Barrett Limerick boss Tommy Barrett. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

After seven league matches, the Blues sit sixth in the table with two wins, two draws and three defeats. Heavy losses on the road to Dundalk (8-0) and Derry (5-0) suggest major defensive frailties, but they have also beaten Sligo and Bray, while holding champions Cork City to a 1-1 draw.

“It’s been been a bit of a rollercoaster,” Duggan accepts. “We’ve had some really good results, but then we got hammerings away to Dundalk and Derry. We’ll hold our hands up that we weren’t good enough on the night at Oriel Park, but in the Brandywell I thought we played really well for the first 50 minutes until we conceded four goals in 12 minutes.

“It’s not good enough but it doesn’t really reflect on the game and we were well in it until that. This season, our home form is going to be massive. We conceded a penalty against Cork and then we gave away another against Shamrock Rovers the other night.”

Many tipped Limerick for the drop at the start of the campaign, and while he doesn’t agree with such predictions, Duggan accepts that retaining their top-flight status is the main priority ahead of tonight’s trip to Richmond Park.

“At the start of the season, the so-called experts were expecting us to be relegated but we believe in the squad we have and we’re more than capable of staying in this division so that’s what we’re aiming for,” he adds.

“We’re sixth at the minute and we just have to keep pushing up that table as high as we can. It’s not going to be easy and we haven’t got the biggest squad or the biggest budget, but we’ve got a really good team spirit and the lads are hard-working.

“We have a strong side and we’re not going to be pushovers.”

Premier Division 

LOI PD 22 March

First Division

LOI FD 22 March

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