OISIN DUDDY: A journey to the Hogan Stand steps

Gaelic Life placement student Oisin Duddy has fond memories of winning an All-Ireland U-20 hurling title at Croke Park

WHEN my club Na Magha lost to Setanta in the Ulster Junior Championship semi-final I thought my season was over, but in a way I was glad because we had a tough season and needed the break.

Then that all changed when my friend told me to call the county manager ‘Big R’ (Ryan O’Neill) and see if I could get a spot.

So, I texted him, just like what Owen Mulligan should have done in 2012-13. And Big R in his thick Dungiven accent said, “that’s grand and I’ll see you soon” and that was that.

Two weeks on from playing in the club championship, I’m in a car with four other lads on the road to Owenbeg for my first post-Covid Derry session.

I was told not to bring sticks which is always a bad thing.

I was in decent shape coming into the training, so I was grand with the weight work, but when we got to the ‘red room’ (the cardio room), oh that was a different ball game.

As a goalkeeper, running is your nightmare scenario and all I remember was running to the toilet every 10 minutes because I’ve never pushed myself that hard for a running session. But as I kept reminding myself ‘welcome to the county lifestyle’.

I got to play in the first round of the All-Ireland against a not-so-strong Sligo side.

When I came on off the bench the game was a bit dull – no ball came near me bar three shots which went wide. Luckily I knew one of the umpires as he lives near me, so I was chatting to him and that was good craic.

We won the game by 5-21 to 2-9 Then we went on to beat Donegal and Mayo setting up an All-Ireland B final against Roscommon in Croke Park.

The buzz around the training ground was amazing. Everyone was having the craic before and after training, playing table tennis, darts and eating whatever we could find in the kitchen.

One of the best moments coming up to the day was in the final session before the big game where we practiced penalties because the year prior we lost out on them in the All-Ireland semi-final.

When I had my turn in nets, I saved every shot and I was loving life. So I went to assistant manager Kevin Kelly and said “Manus, get me a go”, and Manus said to everyone: “If you think Duddy will score. stand to the right, and if you think Duddy wont score go to the left side.”

Let’s just say more people thought I wouldn’t score, but they hadn’t seen me in club training scoring in the top corner!

So I looked at the ‘keeper ‘PK’ (Padraig Kelly), looked down at the ball, looked up again, flicked up the ball and slapped ‘er in the net.

I went round the pitch taking my top off and going like a mad man. And ‘Big R’ went to me and said “If it goes to pens, I want you to be on them if it goes that way.”

I was excited to play in Croke Park but nervous because when it goes to penalties, everything rests on me and I didn’t want to be the man who lost the All-Ireland for us.

Now to the biggest day of my life. Playing in Croke Park in an All-Ireland final. I’ve played in big games before like a county championship and Ulster Championships for the school and many more, but nothing compares to putting on your county jersey in the fourth biggest stadium in Europe.

Everyone knew what we had to do, everyone was cool, calm and collected, but I think we all got a bit nervous when we went down to the changing room as it just kicked in for me and the other lads that this is it.

We all got new jerseys for the occasion which said ‘All-Ireland u-20 Final 2023’ and I kept looking at it which a sense of pride because it’s very rare for a man from the Waterside, Derry City to go and represent their county.

We got to walk around the pitch for 15 minutes and the pitch was a green carpet which could be mistaken for a rug, and I was amazed by it because the pitches I’ve played in are never like that.

The national anthem came on as the game was about to start and I nearly had a tear in my eye given the scale of the event.

It was nerve-racking sitting on the bench and our star player Ruairó Ó Mianáin didn’t have the best of starts and that went right through the whole team as we went into half time six points down.

In the changing room at half time, ‘Big R’ gave us a speech that I will never forget and we left for the second-half like men possessed.

It went a lot better after the break with a top-corner goal and points from Ruairí Ó Mianáin, and a 45-metre rocket from my club mate and best friend Keelen Doherty which got everyone up on their feet, and we never really looked back for the remainder of the game.

And that was that – we were All-Ireland champions. Not many men in Derry or even Ireland can say they won an All-Ireland. When the final whistle blew, I stormed down to the pitch and ran over to ‘Big R’ and said, “we did it, we ****ing did it” and I couldn’t really believe what had just happened. .

We walked up to the stand to lift the cup. Me and my best friend and club teammate Daniel Doherty lifted it for the Waterside and it really was a dream come true.

We got to the changing rooms, I popped open a bottle of Grey Goose I won from a Na Magha charity event the week beforehand, and everyone was going crazy. Eamonn Cassidy ended up on the table and breaking It which was the highlight of my day – bar the fact that we won the All-Ireland.

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