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'It Does Hurt When You Are Getting Nothing But Negative Press And Being Called A Thug'

'It Does Hurt When You Are Getting Nothing But Negative Press And Being Called A Thug'

Kieran Duff felt as though he was 'treated like a criminal' following the 1983 All-Ireland football final between his Dublin side and Galway.

It was a game which saw four players sent-off, three from Dublin and one from Galway, and became known as the '12 Apostles final' due to the Dubs - who emerged winners - finishing the game with just a dozen players.

Duff was sent-off the in second half after appearing to aim a kick at the head of Pat O'Neill. The Galway player later admitted that Duff had not made contact with his head.

"There was stuff going on off the ball which the ref didn't deal with. He dealt with stuff, okay, but he didn't deal with the real stuff," Duff says in his Laochra Gael episode which airs on TG4 at 9:30pm on March 13th.

To me, this is what led to us retaliating or reacting or whatever. It was his first big game and he wasn't up to it.

There was a kickout from the Galway keeper. As it was going over my head, Pat was holding onto my jersey and swinging out of me. Whatever way I spun around, I grabbed him and threw him to the ground.

I saw the referee was looking that way, the linesman was looking that way, I just walked over to him, as much to say, 'Would you just get up off the ground and stop acting the clown?' I gave kind of a toe-poke to him.

It looked like I had kicked him in the had but as he said himself afterward that I made no contact and if I did make contact, it was with his arm or shoulder. It was the crowd's reaction that done me.

My next thought was, 'Shit, we're down another man.'

Dublin won the game by two points. The post-match coverage concentrated heavily on the final's unsavoury moments rather than it being about their first All-Ireland title win in six years.

At one of the events following the game, Pat O'Neill told Duff's wife Mags that her husband had not kicked him in the head. Duff was still hit with a 12-month suspension.

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"You don't realise at the time, coming off the field, what the consequences are," explains Duff.

"It does hurt when you are getting nothing but negative press and kind of being called a thug.

"The GAA were trying to nail somebody on it. They tried to nail Brian (Mullins) between the sending off and the tunnel, though nothing really happened in the tunnel. The next one was me. I was landed with a 12-month suspension - talk about being gobsmacked.

"You are treated like you are a criminal in the GAA world, as if you are after bloody committing murder."

Even standing before the GAA's 'Mercy Committee', Duff could not find absolution.

"I think it's the first time ever that someone was shot down at the Mercy Committee," says Duff.

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"I know for a fact that I did not intentionally kick the guy or try to him, or do anything of any harm. I've never ever done anything like that to any player."

In the seasons which followed, Duff feels his undeserved reputation went before him. "Basically, players could do what they liked - pull, drag and I wouldn't get a free. That did happen for a year or two after," he says.

A factor which added extra grievance to his situation was what happened to him in the Leinster final against Offaly two months prior to that All-Ireland decider.

Late in the game, Offaly's Mick Fitzgerald aimed a two-footed dropkick at Duff. It was a move more suited to a professional wrestling match that a Gaelic football one.

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"The ball was played out to Offaly's wing-back and I go out to tackle him. All that I see is two feet coming into my face and this fella launching a kamikaze poleaxe."

"He dropped like a stone and that really frightened me," says Duff's wife Mags.

I was trying to see him and saying, 'Get up Dully, get up Dully.'

This fella in front of me was saying, 'I hope his effin head is gone. I hope he's dead.' I lost it and I grabbed him by the back of his jacket and I walloped him with my umbrella.

A supporter subsequently stepped onto the field and attacked Fitzgerald.

"Comments that were made, 'The likes of that shouldn't happen on a football field. Players should be able to walk off not getting abuse from supporters' but yet there wasn't a comment of 'Jeez, that's a terrible tackle,'" says Duff.

"When people say 'tackle', it wasn't a tackle. That's relevant then to what happens in two months time."

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Though he did not win another All-Ireland, Duff's best years were still ahead of him in terms of personal success. He was an All-Star in 1987 and 1988.

Meath beat Dublin in the 1987/88 National League final following a replay. In between the drawn game and Meath's win, the All-Star tour took place. Duff was the only Dub on that tour to the US. Meath, being All-Ireland champions at the time, had far more.

We were playing out in San Fran. I’d say four Meath lads had a go at me. I got four clips, stitches under my chin first half. So I thought, ‘Right, if that’s all it’s going to be, then happy days.'

Start of the second half boom, Kevin Foley decks me with a box. So I am on the ground, blood spewing out of me. So anyway, eventually with 10 minutes to go they take me off in case I get sent off. At this stage, I am frothing.

Duff remained fuming for the rest of the evening. That year's tour involved both the football and hurling All-Star teams. When a row broke out between Duff and the Meath players in a car park, some of the Galway hurlers - with whom Duff was good friends - stepped in to back him up.

"There was an argument, a hullabaloo but was just it, verbals, but fair play to the Galway hurlers - they stuck to my back."

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His career of 13 years ended in the winter following Dublin and Meath's four-game Leinster Championship saga in 1991 when he fell out of favour with then manager Paddy Cullen.

"All of a sudden, you're totally out of it and you're not given an explanation as to why," says Duff. "To me, that was always the disappointing thing."

The following year, after a decade of trying, Duff and Mags had their first child, Ciara, who was born with special needs.

"When she was six or seven, we heard of this dolphin/human therapy in Florida," says Duff.

The therapy was majorly expensive but with the help of the GAA community, enough money was raised to send Ciara to the US.

"There's all these Meath guys you battled against, they're the guys who rowed in behind me. Plus loads of other inter-county players around the country.

"As soon as I mentioned that it was a fundraiser for Ciara, everyone rowed in. We raised enough money over that period to do the therapy for four years."

Picture credit: Sportsfile

See Also: Michael Duignan Issues Explosive Response To Donal Og Cusack After League Sunday Criticism

PJ Browne
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