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30/07/2021

Duignan has no case to answer over missing Offaly games

The man behind the wire

Duignan has no case to answer over missing Offaly games

Johnny Moloney grabs the ball against Kildare.

IT was interesting to observe some of the “furore” on social media over the weekend after Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan missed Offaly's two Leinster Senior Football Championship games because of his hurling analyst duties with RTE.

We use the word “furore” with caution as this was very much of the storm in a teacup variety. It was largely fuelled by one man and his comments highlighting Duignan's absence did not gain any traction – indeed the majority of the comments made to his tweet were in defence of Duignan and his right to have a life outside of Offaly GAA. Suffice to say that this “issue” has not inflamed public opinion and most people either simply don't mind one way or the other, or have no problem with the Durrow club man missing those games.

The former St Rynagh's, now Durrow, club man has been one of RTE's top hurling analysts for several years now. He went into the role shortly after his own inter-county career ended in 2001 and he has been an excellent analyst since then – personable, articulate and passionate, his views may not always win full endorsement but that is the way for any media personnel and he is always entertaining, worth listening to and incisive. He knows his hurling and his value as an analyst is reflected by the fact that RTE have retained his services for so long.

Duignan's contribution and commitment to Offaly GAA cannot be challenged. As a player, he gave vast service. A member of the Offaly team that won the All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship for the first time in 1986, he was an excellent senior hurler throughout the 1990s. He won All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship medals in 1994 and 1998, an All-Star award in 1998, a National Hurling League medal in 1991 and Leinster Senior Hurling Championship medals in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994 and 1995.

He played over 100 competitive senior hurling league and championship games for Offaly from his debut in 1987 to his final game against Limerick in 2001. Duignan was also a very good football player – he played senior football for Offaly, featuring on both teams early in his career. He was wing back on the Offaly team that suffered a narrow 1-16 to 0-16 defeat by Donegal in the 1991 National Football League quarter-final and played championship the same year.

As a golden generation of Offaly hurler began to find their feet, Duignan knew that he could not keep both codes going at the highest level and his decision to opt for hurling was understandable and inevitable.

He was a key part of an excellent St Rynagh's team and won Senior Hurling Championship medals with them in 1987, 1990, 1992 and 1993. He also played loads of club football with St Rynagh's and as a player, he gave his all to every team he was in.

The end of his playing career was the start of the next phase of his GAA life. His work at RTE brought him to a new level of national prominence, transcending even what he achieved as a player. He also turned to management initially and for a period, it looked like he would have a future here. He was Meath senior hurling manager for two years in 2002 and 2003 but it was a frustrating experience for him. In a county where hurling could scarcely be described as a poor relation to football, he struggled to cope with their place in the pecking order – he resigned in 2003 after a round of club matches was not postponed ahead of a league game and came back for the championship but stepped down after that.

He was a coach with Offaly senior hurlers in 2004 but that was his last real entry into inter-county management. He had plenty of offers and was asked to be Offaly senior hurling manager on at least one occasion but he had the wisdom to know that his true strengths were not at this level.

He did make a huge contribution to his adopted home of Ballinamere/Durrow. He was chairman of their minor board and managed their minor and U-21 hurlers as they enjoyed a run of great success, transforming the Offaly underage hurling scene.

Before becoming chairman, he had contributed very well to the Offaly GAA County Board, especially as a fundraiser. He was one of the chief fundraisers for the redevelopment of O'Connor Park and the county training grounds in Faithful Fields in Kilcormac. The odd snide comment may be made about him getting some commission for those but whether he did or not is immaterial. The reality is that he devoted huge time and effort to both projects and neither would have been the success they were without his input. He possesses a huge force of personality and charisma, the ability to bring people with him and attract money that may not be got otherwise. He was absolutely pivotal to both and the County Board of those times were delighted when he made his services available. They knew they needed a Michael Duignan/Paddy Fenning type fundraiser – a man from a powerful GAA background who could raise money, and there are not many that fit this bill on a truly high level.

Since then of course, he has gone onto a different level, winning election as Offaly GAA chairman at the 2019 Convention, ousting the incumbent Tommy Byrne in a contentious and much publicised contest. Duignan along with Edenderry's Colm Cummins, Clara's Dervill Dolan and Clara's Brian Gavin put themselves forward as a package, seeking a mandate for change. Duignan was elected chair with Dolan as treasurer and Gavin Leinster Council delegate. Cummins lost a contest for vice chair to Rhode's James Murphy but was elected secretary a year later while Gavin lost out to Kilcormac-Killoughey's Dolores Slevin in a vote for Leinster Council delegate.

Michael Duignan certainly put his head on the block by going after the job and heads in such a public manner. It was a brave step to take and whether you disagreed with it or not, it showed his passion and commitment to Offaly GAA. His desires and intentions were pure – he wants to see Offaly improve at inter-county level.

Since then, he has won wide praise for the way he has carried out his job. Covid-19 has disrupted things but there is a great sense of something happening at all levels in the county and a lot of this is coming from Duignan.

He can't take the praise for it all and his pre-decessors must be acknowledged. Offaly is blessed with good county football and hurling managements at the moment. They were all put in place by the Tommy Byrne led County Board. There is an exciting new generation of footballer and hurler emerging. There is still plenty of pitfalls ahead and Offaly are coming from a low base but there is more optimism about the future now than in a long time. These footballers and hurlers didn't just appear in thin air after Duignan became chairman – they are the product of their own work and the work going on at club level over a few years and it is now that the dividends are beginning to be yielded.

Duignan has been impressive since becoming chairman. He is ambitious and he is not afraid to take things on. Him and Offaly represent a very good fit at the moment and the GAA looks to be moving into a good place in the county. There is a feel good mood in the county at the moment and Duignan is a major reason for this – Offaly needs him to see out his full permitted term of five years in the chair.

Like a lot of people, I would have had some reservations about Duignan when he became chairman, and his temperament but he has exuded leadership and drive. He is a convincing, strong, steady figure head and he is a major part of the reason why there is a feel good atmosphere around Offaly GAA at the moment.

The only real cloud on the horizon is the row between the Offaly GAA County Board and Tullamore GAA Club over the lease of O'Connor Park. That is an ugly affair and it is something that has been sparked off by the County Board. They may be right to challenge elements of the lease, both the size of the yearly fee and some of the clauses in it, but equally, Tullamore have their rights in the whole affair. It has been dragging on for too long now and an end still does not seem to be in sight with the board rejecting a recent offer by Tullamore of a €15,000 donation.

This will be the litmus test of Duignan's leadership. It is a row that is sucking huge energy out of the people leading the County Board and Tullamore GAA Club and for the sake of everyone, it needs to be brought to a speedy and mutally satisfactory conclusion – both need to make concessions and termination of the lease must be avoided at all cost. That is not in the interest of either.

However, to question Duignan for missing a couple of Offaly games is churlish. His presence at either would not make one iota of difference to any player or management. Of course, the County Board chairman would normally be at these games but the GAA is a voluntary organisation and its officers can't be at everything.

RTE is work for Michael Duignan. That and his other media interests represent a significant part of his yearly income – he may have other business interests and bigger sources of wages but to label this work as a sideline or any other such term is way off the mark. It isn't, it is a key part of what he does each year. It is also part of who he is and he clearly loves giving his opinion on the GAA on RTE, in his newspaper columns and through his social media outlets.

That may sit uncomfortably with some people, who don't want an Offaly GAA chairman embracing controversy in any way. His RTE and media work, however, were well known when he was elected chairman and the county's clubs accepted that in the mandate they gave him.

In the ideal world, Duignan would of course be at the Leinster senior football matches against Louth and Kildare. And maybe in future years, RTE will be able to facilitate that by avoiding Offaly fixtures without reducing his volume of work for them.

However, in the broader scheme of things, it is neither here nor there. The chairman is at the vast majority of matches, he attends regular training sessions and no one else in Offaly matches the hours he puts in for the Association. Like everyone else in the GAA, he is entitled to work, he is entitled to holidays and he is entitled to a life outside of the GAA. He must have that balance.

Last Saturday, Duignan would have loved to have been in Sligo where his son Brian was playing with Offaly senior hurlers in the Christy Riung Cup but he knew that the Leinster minor hurling final was the right place for him to be. He is putting Offaly GAA ahead in so many facets of his life and if he misses a couple of matches here and there because he has other things he wants or needs to do, does it really impact on the way he is doing his job? Does it lessen what he is doing and does it damage the teams in question or Offaly GAA? Does it mean that he is not committed to Offaly GAA?

The answer, of course, is a resounding no in all these cases and that is the bottom line.


Trivia corner


Last week's answers are:

1 – How much in total did the Dooley brothers score in the 1998 All-Ireland senior hurling final?

Answer – 2-12.

2 – Name the two members of the 1988 Offaly U-21 All-Ireland winning champions who were sons of well known footballers of the same name from the 1950s/1960s?

Answer – Phil O'Reilly and Mick Casey.

3 – When Offaly played Galway in the National Hurling League on February 4 2001, they recorded their highst score against their neighbours in the absence of Johnny Dooley. Offaly introduced a 19 year old debutant who scored 0-14 of the 0-23 total. Name him?

Andtrew – Damian Murray.

This week's questions are:

1 – When Offaly played Tipperary in the quarter-final of the 2003 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, who were the opposing managers?

2 – Name the four players who played for Offaly in both All-Ireland minor finals in 1989?

3 – From 1997 to 2002 inclusive, how many Tipperary men managed Offaly senior hurlers and name them?

Answers in the next column. With thanks to former referee Carthage Buckley for supplying the questions.

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