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'Age is no barrier': Tributes roll in after Armagh man Hugh Duggan officiates his final GAA fixtures aged 79

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Hugh Duggan (centre) wearing his Armagh jersey during his last match as an official.

Hugh Duggan (centre) wearing his Armagh jersey during his last match as an official.

Hugh Duggan (centre) wearing his Armagh jersey during his last match as an official.

Not too many referees can say they spent almost half a century taking charge of matches.

But Armagh man Hugh Duggan, who first took up the whistle in the early Seventies, can make this claim and with considerable conviction too.

Now 79, the indefatigable Hugh officiated at what was his final match recently when he was man in the middle at a US colleges' tournament in Las Vegas.

Thus he brought the curtain down on a refereeing career that embraced both soccer and Gaelic football although it was in the latter sport that he was to gain considerable prominence.

His impressive portfolio as a whistler embraced a considerable strata of activity ranging from schools matches to an All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final.

A lot of water, though, has flowed under the bridge since he took charge of that epic 1979 Croke Park decider in which Kerry beat Dublin.

And if the match was tarnished by a hint of controversy, then this was to prove the catalyst for a lifelong friendship.

Kerry won the game rather comfortably but Hugh had the task of dismissing Páidi Ó Sé, one of their star players, in the second half. The legendary Ó Sé won eight All-Ireland medals and passed away in 2012.

Initial rancour following the decision, however, was to morph into a warm relationship.

When Hugh subsequently decided to begin a new life in the United States, he nonetheless still undertook pre-pandemic trips home and it was certainly not unknown for him to drive down to Kerry to see Ó Sé.

Prior to emigrating, Hugh had combined his duties as a busy referee with the role of secretary of the Pearse Og club in Armagh city and did much to help the club progress.

Current Pearse Og Chairman Jimmy McKee hails Hugh's contribution to the club which has provided a raft of players to the Armagh county team down through the years.

"Hugh served as secretary and did great work for the club. He was always willing to help out and when he gained prominence as one of the leading referees in the country we were all delighted for him. Nothing was ever too much trouble for him and he was always prepared to challenge himself," recalls McKee.

If he found himself busy on the GAA front in Ulster, this was nothing compared to the exhausting schedule which Hugh set for himself in North America.

Aeroplane journeys spanning thousands of miles were not uncommon for him as he assisted in plotting progress for the GAA in various states and in the process helped to elevate the standard of refereeing to a new high.

He organised seminars and forums specifically aimed at improving the standard of refereeing and nothing afforded him greater pleasure than seeing younger officials reach the top level.

"I have always enjoyed my involvement in the GAA. Obviously it has been challenging but at the same time worthwhile. I have certainly logged up huge miles since going to the United States but I take great satisfaction from having helped the GAA to grow there," states Hugh.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic hit the GAA hard in the United States and obviously took a heavy toll on fixtures.

Yet Hugh's determination and drive to see the sport flourish never faltered although his travel became severely limited.

He was a founding member of the San Francisco Ulster club in the mid-80s before becoming involved in the Michael Cusacks club.

The fact that there has been something of a shortage of referees in the United States of late meant that Hugh's career with the whistle lasted longer than he had initially planned but he certainly has no regrets on this score.

Indeed, his grandson Darnell Parkinson puts things in perspective when he explains: "Hugh had a hernia operation not too long ago but he still plays golf two or three times every week. I think he trains every day at his home - age is just no barrier to him.

"He still follows the GAA news from home avidly and obviously takes a great interest in what is happening within the Pearse Og club in particular."

When Pearse Og dramatically halted Crossmaglen Rangers' seemingly impregnable dominance of the Armagh Championship in 2009, Parkinson was part of the squad and this was a great source of delight to his grandfather in particular.

"He was over the moon with that title win and I have to say that I was delighted for him as much as I was for myself to tell you the truth," says Parkinson.

"He's probably the biggest Gael that I know. He's certainly the most fanatical Armagh fan that I am aware of. He goes out on the golf course head-to-toe in orange and white, Armagh's colours. His registration plate over there is 'Armagh4Sam' or something like that. Need I say any more?"

With Armagh having attained Division One status in the Allianz League, Parkinson is preparing himself for a flood of messages from across the Atlantic as the Orchard County prepare to do battle with Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan in Division One North in the weeks ahead.

"It's going to be an interesting League and knowing Hugh, he'll want to be kept up to date. The hope is that Armagh will do well. If they do he will have something to cheer about," smiles Parkinson.


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