Cillian Duggan is one of the unsung heroes of the Cratloe side, with his work at midfield over the past two seasons being a key part of the south east Clare side’s rise to the top, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
GAELSCOIL Mhichíl Cíosóg principal Dónal Ó hAiniféin strides down the corridor of his seat of education out the Gort Road in Ennis.
Along the way there’s a picture ofmembers of the Gaelscoil alumni that were part of a winning Éire Óg underage team he helped to train a couple of years ago.
In an eclectic mix the photo sits alongside shots of musicians and drama groups, communion classes and confirmation classes, as well as President Paddy Hillery meeting some of the school’s earliest students way back in the day.
But it’s not all school and town culture up on the wall.
There’s Cratloe there too – the Gaelscoil’s link to the Cratloe football story, as Kerryman Ó hÁiniféin points to another picture on the school’s wall and hall of fame.
“Sin Cillian (Duggan), iarscoláire eile,” he says, “leis a dheirfiúir Aoibheann sa scoil tar éis don Chláir Croabh na hÉireann faoi 21 a bhuacaint i 2009,” he adds.
Ó hAiniféin would love to say that Duggan learned the basics of the big ball in the Gaelscoil, but truth told they didn’t start taking football seriously in the school until the Kerryman landed, a good while after Duggan’s time as a pupil had passed.
Instead, it was St Flannan’s College and Clooney/Quin that made a footballer out of him – where the midfielder that’s been a key part of Cratloe’s success story over the past two years was made.
“It was in St Flannan’s that I really started playing serious football,” reveals Duggan “We had Donal Vaughan and Benny Duggan over the team and we got to a Corn Uí Mhuirí final (in 2006) and I was playing midfield then too.
“We beat St Brendan’s Killarney and Killorglin in the quarter-final and semi-final. It was unexpected at the time and we were beaten afterwards by Macroom, but I really enjoyed my football in Flannan’s.
“When I was growing up and playing underage with Clooney/Quin there was great football in the club. We had the likes of Brian O’Neill there, Sean Earls and Peter Sheehy as well and they pushed the football hard.
“I remember playing a Junior A final against Kilfenora and we had some great players in the team. We’d Declan O’Keeffe in goal, we had the O’Briens, Christy, Johnny and Davy and Fergal (Lynch),” he adds.
With Clooney/Quin Duggan won Junior A honours in 2009 and played intermediate for a few years, but it wasn’t until he linked up with Cratloe last year that he got the opportunity to take his football to the next level.
The decision at the April meeting of the Clare County Board to give the green light for Duggan and Fergal Lynch to play as isolated players with Cratloe was a huge moment in the season of the aspiring champions.
“With Clooney/Quin the interest in football just went,” reveals Duggan. “I think one year we were playing Ennistymon up in Corofin and we didn’t have 15. It just fell apart, we couldn’t field teams and were giving walkovers.
“Being able to link up with Cratloe after Clooney/Quin decided not to field any football team was great,” he continues, “because it’s just a brilliant set-up to be involved with.
“They are a fantastic bunch. They’re outstanding in what they do. After the semi-final on the Sunday, they went to the Clare Inn for a recovery session and were then back training for the county hurling final on the Tuesday.
“It’s the same after the county hurling final – the recovery session and then focus in on the football. They are great role models for the younger generation coming through – that you can play the hurling and the football.”
And, as one half of the all Clooney/Quin midfield, both Duggan and Lynch have certainly made their mark. Indeed, since playing their first championship game last year, both have only known victory in the blue of Cratloe when playing in Clare.
“It’s been an incredible run,” he admits, “but the one we think about is the Crokes game. Being beaten by Crokes was a huge disappointment, especially after we went a point up on them. We thought we had it.
“Last year it was a bit different. Cratloe didn’t get out of the group stage in the hurling. We were training a lot more. We don’t have that this year. This year, it’s hard to describe, because with all that’s gone on we’re just taking it week by week.
“I think only when we look back on it later on we’ll realise what a huge achievement it was for the lads to get to two county finals.
“We had some seriously tough games last year. The Éire Óg game against Clarecastle is the one I remember. In the first 20 minutes of that game we were just getting over run and in a way were lucky enough to get a penalty that swung things back in our favour.
“It’s going to be difficult. Éire Óg seem to be progressing with every game. They’ve got a few lads back since we last played them. It’s going to be very tough. No county final is going to be easy – no matter what the level.”