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One last-gasp hero watching another, and chasing back-to-back All-Irelands with Meath

Royal star Emma Duggan is ‘fully focused on football for the next few years’ amidst the AFLW exodus.

THERE’S A FEW familiar faces in the top right-hand corner of an incredible photograph doing the rounds after Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final between Kerry and Dublin.

The Croke Park crowd holds its breath as Sean O’Shea stands over a decisive, long-range 76th-minute free-kick. The picture, captured brilliantly by James Crombie of Inpho, paints a thousand words:

fans-look-on-as-sean-oshea-prepares-to-kick-the-winning-point Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Emma Duggan watched on alongside her Meath team-mates Vikki Wall, Aoibhin Cleary and Katie Newe, the All-Star attacker having found herself in a similar position less than 24 hours earlier.

It was she who kicked the last-gasp winner which send the reigning champions past Galway and into this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal.

“To be honest I wasn’t that confident,” the 20-year-old laughs now. “It was looping in the air for a long time, I didn’t know where it was going to go but I suppose when the white flag was raised it was probably relief more than anything to put it over the bar.

“I didn’t realise that there was so little left on the clock. I thought if it went wide, we’d get another opportunity but it actually didn’t happen like that. I was just in the right place at the right time, and I think anyone would have taken on the shot if they were in that position. I threw a boot at it and I was really relieved that it went over in the end.”

O’Shea surely felt similar emotions when his effort sealed Kerry’s progression to the All-Ireland final, avoiding extra-time and ending years of Dublin hurt.

And Duggan was more than happy to play the spectator role for that one. “It was incredible to be going into Croke Park and actually experiencing the whole atmosphere. It’s a change from being on the pitch, especially a Dublin and Kerry match — you can’t beat it! Seanie O’Shea’s score was absolutely incredible, so it was really nice being there.”

Being spotted in that photo certainly isn’t the first time Duggan has been picked out of a crowd in recent months. Meath’s monumental All-Ireland win last September was undoubtedly life-changing, the day-to-day existence now very different at times.

“There are obviously aspects that have changed a huge amount,” she nods. “The big one, I suppose, is just walking down the street and randomers noticing you, which for me I was not really expecting that.

“It is huge, especially when you see the kids coming up to you in their jerseys asking you sign them and get a picture and stuff like that, you’re kind of thinking, ‘Why are they asking me, why are they looking for my autograph?’

“There are other aspects that I want to stay consistent in my life. I wouldn’t be a massive fan of getting out there in the media, I prefer to keep my head down so there are aspects where you want to stay focused on the job in hand. There are definitely things that you enjoy and the opportunities that you have been given. We would never have got that this time last year or a couple of years ago as well so it is huge and you do have to shake some water here, you know they won’t be here forever too.”

duggan Emma Duggan is pictured in front of her ‘County Pride’ billboard at her local Lidl store in Clonee.

Duggan is well aware, too, that these Glory Days aren’t eternal either.

The ladies football landscape is changing, the Dublin-Cork dominance well and truly broken and the race more competitive than ever before. “It’s the most open championship I’ve ever seen, not even played in, but watched as well. If you were to say at the start of the year that this would be the last four teams in the competition, I think you probably would have been laughed at, not having Dublin or Cork there,” as she notes at one point.

The AFLW is also making its impact felt, with 21 of the country’s best players signed on for the new season. Wall and Orlagh Lally are two of such from the Banks of the Boyne, with the feeling in some quarters that this might be a case of last chance saloon for this current crop.

Duggan disagrees. “Ah no, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s the way we’ve been looking at it at all.

“The girls have worked hard over the last few years to get that opportunity. I’m living in hope that they’ll certainly be back for another season, if it works out that way. I wouldn’t say it’s our last opportunity to go for it but it would be a special way to send them off this year anyway. So hopefully we get the win at the weekend and push on for the final.

“I think obviously there are going to be more and more players going over. It doesn’t really work in both favours any more, in that you can’t play both really. But look, it’s great that players are getting the opportunity but it will be down to players in terms of whether you want to give that professional lifestyle a go or stick with your roots and stay with football. That’s not our concern.

“We do have really, really good young players there to keep us building and a good underage system coming up as well so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.”

Duggan is surely sought after Down Under herself, but brushed off any immediate appeal or interest in an interview with The42 in May.

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dublin-v-meath-tg4-all-ireland-ladies-senior-football-championship-final Duggan and Wall with Katie Newe and Máire O'Shaughnessy after last year's All-Ireland win. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“Who knows what the future holds but for now, I’m definitely staying put,” she said at the time. And she echoed those sentiments yesterday.

“Look, I wouldn’t say no. Obviously right now it’s not something I’ve been thinking of so I can’t give a straight answer now, but you never know. In the future it might be something that will work out that way but for now I’m fully focused on football for the next few years. There is a lot that I want to achieve with Meath and with my club Dunboyne as well so that’s where my focus lies for now.”

Exactly where she wants it.

Duggan will be in the thick of it as a player at HQ this weekend. “A massive test” lies ahead against a Donegal side “who will have their tails up” after knocking Dublin out, while Kerry and Mayo face off in the other last-four battle.

Most of the talk through the build-up will be around Eamonn Murray’s side continuing their bid for back-to-back Brendan Martin Cups, but Duggan and co. will block that out.

“It’s huge, we haven’t really talked about the back-to-back thing, it’s just one game at a time, one season at a time,” Duggan concludes, wise beyond her years.

“I suppose we did want to go out this season to prove last year wasn’t, as some people have been saying, a one-hit wonder.

“We wanted to be a consistent team like the likes of Dublin and Cork who have been there or thereabouts for so many years. I saw something the other day that this is the first time neither team has been in a semi-final in 20 or 30 years, I think. They’ve shown that dominance and that’s something we want to show as well, obviously getting back to an All-Ireland final, winning another All-Ireland would definitely solidify that as well.”

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