• Home
  • /
  • Rugby
  • /
  • Willie Duggan, The First Irish Player Sent Off, Denied It Ever Happened

Willie Duggan, The First Irish Player Sent Off, Denied It Ever Happened

Willie Duggan, The First Irish Player Sent Off, Denied It Ever Happened
Arthur James O'Dea
By Arthur James O'Dea
Share this article

To the uninitiated, the disciplinary procedures of rugby union are hazy, at best.

When New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams' received a red card in the first Test of this summer's Lions tour, it was the first instance in fifty years - and only the third ever - that an All Black had been sent off.

An indication of favourable treatment from match officials? Hardly, only three Irish players have seen red also.

With a heightened emphasis on the security of player's well-being in the modern game, it is no surprise that two of these (Jamie Heaslip (2010) & CJ Stander (2016)) have come in recent years. To find the third man however, you must go back to the 1977 Five Nations Championship - although he maintains that he was never sent off.

Willie Duggan, who has passed away today aged 67, also excelled in Ireland's back row. Capped 41 times and a Lion during the 1977 tour of New Zealand, Duggan, alongside Wales' Geoff Wheel, became the first player to be sent off in nearly 100 years of the international tournament.


During a tempestuous game that was not necessarily 'nasty' by the standards of the time, Wheel was the first to crack. In front of the Scottish referee Norman Sanson, the Welsh lock landed a punch on an Ireland's Stuart McKinney. Although a sending off was not to be expected, Wheel surmised that,

it was fair enough really. You throw a punch in front of the referee, what else can you expect? He felt it was necessary and right and he took a stand.

With the game deadlocked at 6-6, Wales were the reigning champions and Ireland's spirited resistance was reflected in Wheel's frustration.

However, before Sanson could deliver Wheel his marching orders, Duggan had sought instant retribution. Perhaps confident that such retaliation would warrant a talking to at most, Duggan took a swing at the 6 ft 5 in, 17 stone Alan Martin - he had to go.

With both men now walking to the sideline in what was a rare act of authority on the referee's behalf, they recalled having 'a laugh about it' as Wales proceeded to hammer our a convincing win in Duggan's absence. Lesson learned then?


A notable character who would later captain Ireland, Duggan maintained that he had never actually been sent off. Recalling the story years later, Moss Keane revealed Duggan's understanding of the events that had transpired:

He said to me the referee came towards him and said would he mind leaving the field? And Duggan says, 'Sure not at all. I was bolloxed anyway'.

Maybe it's just the two sending's off for Ireland then?


SEE ALSO: Former Ireland Captain Willie Duggan Dies, Aged 67

Join The Monday Club Have a tip or something brilliant you wanted to share on? We're looking for loyal Balls readers free-to-join members club where top tipsters can win prizes and Balls merchandise

Processing your request...

You are now subscribed!

Share this article

Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved. Developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com