‘Up goes that hand again for Galway’

Those words were a regular part of Mícheál Ó Hehir’s radio commentary on hurling matches in the 1940s and 1950s when Galway were playing. The hand he was talking about belonged to Sean Duggan, who was arguably the greatest goalkeeper ever in the history of the game.

You could say he was born to play hurling. He was a member of the Duggan family from College Road, some of whose predecessors had played in the famous College Road team of the 1890s. His uncle Paddy played for Galway. Seán’s siblings were Paddy (Mogan ), Jimmy, and Monica. All four of them hurled for Galway, Monica being a famous camogie player.

They were given their first hurleys by Eddie Moore O’Flaherty from the Claddagh when they were young children. They played hurling on the street, in the Sportsground, and in Eyre Square, often using their jackets or schoolbags as goalposts. The boys went to the ‘Mon’ where their skills were developed. As they grew older, most of their time was spent playing junior hurling in Mahon’s Field, or the Plots in Woodquay, the Nuns’ Field in Forster Street, or Boland’s Field beside the Dublin Road. Sean won his first trophy, the Dean’s Cup, with the Mon in 1935. He went on to have a very distinguished hurling career. He played minor for Liam Mellows and in 1947 won county championships in hurling and football, a unique double.

He captained the county minor team which was beaten by Tipperary in the All Ireland final that year. He won a number of senior county titles with Mellows, and won a National League and a Railway Cup with Galway. Sadly, he never won an All-Ireland, the closest he came was in the 1953 final when Galway faced Cork. Our photograph shows him making a spectacular save that day from Christy Ring, who simply could not believe that any mortal could save that shot. The Galway back tracking Ring is Mickey Burke. Note the crowd sitting on the grass on the edge of the pitch. Health and safety was obviously not an issue then, unless you were on the pitch. It was a dirty and controversial game, but Cork prevailed.

Seán represented Connacht many times in the Railway Cup. He later became a noted referee and officiated at a minor All-Ireland final, a Railway Cup final, and an under-21 All Ireland final. He was a wonderful ambassador for the game, a beautiful striker of the ball, a natural stylish player. Indeed you could say there was a lot of style about many aspects of Seán Duggan, he was a snappy dresser, loved the arts, could not pass an art gallery, was an all the year round swimmer, had a very good sense of humour and a wonderful husky laugh. He was a cultured man who loved history, heritage, and Galway. Above all he loved the game of hurling, analysing matches and telling anecdotes of days of yore.

In spite of all these achievements, he was a modest man. His working life was spent in the employ of the ESB. In recent times, he was honoured by having his portrait on a stamp, and having a bus station named after him.

Seán Duggan died last week, aged 91. He may be gone but he will not be forgotten. For years to come, Galwegians and hurling aficionados will talk about the man they knew and were privileged to have seen play. Goals won’t be so easily scored in Heaven from now on.

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