Peamount stalwart Karen Duggan determined to go out on a high
‘I’d love to win a league. I think that would have a bearing on how long I would play’
Karen Duggan: the Peamount stalwart retired from the international side last year, after winning 35 caps. She was named International Player of the Year in 2016. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Peamount United are sitting on top of the Women’s National League and, with just four games left in the group stages, Karen Duggan is hoping they stay there. Her eye is focused on the trophy and she’s toying with the idea of retirement afterwards –but only if the shelf is filled.
Things are looking good for the Dublin club, on 43 points with nearest rivals Shelbourne (35) and Wexford Youths (32) leading the chasing pack. On Sunday Peamount recorded a comprehensive 7-0 win over Limerick WFC but Duggan’s not losing focus. Or curtailing her ambitions for changes in the league.
“I haven’t had the best of luck yet, I played three finals and lost three finals but fourth time lucky, that’s the saying, isn’t it,” she says.
It’s no surprise the Kilkenny woman started out playing camogie, and she progressed to a minor title in 2009. But Gaelic football and basketball also caught her attention before soccer won out.
Most of her league career has been with Peamount. Scroll through the club’s social media and you quickly see how important the women’s team is there. She left for two seasons, to play with UCD Waves, but says the club spirit was a big part of her decision to return.
“It does have a real club feel. There’s an excellent underage structure, there’s really good people and you do feel you’re part of the community when you’re there. I come from a GAA background so that was important to me, you get looked after no matter where you’re from in the country,” she says.
And with her eye on the bigger picture, she says having a strong underage section means the girls are motivated to support the senior team. Support and dream.
“It’s about showing these young girls that they can go on and play for Ireland, they can come and watch the team every weekend,” she says.
Until recently Duggan was also one of those Ireland players. She retired last year, after 35 caps, and was named International Player of the Year in 2016.
In that time, she feels the links between the league and the Ireland squad have changed.
“The big change is probably coming from the changes in the national team, because there is such an emphasis on girls getting professional contracts which you had to do outside of the country. When I first started, a lot of the girls in the national set-up were playing in the national league,” she says.
Duggan has noticed players are leaving earlier now, like Tyler Toland (18) who signed for Manchester City earlier this month.
“I do feel the purpose of the league is changing. For me, it’s about playing at a high level still but for a lot of girls it’s a stepping stone to get recognised for the international team and maybe push for a professional contract outside of Ireland.”
She says getting on the Irish squad now means coming from a professional background, on the pitch five days a week. And with a new Ireland manager currently being selected, that may continue.
Off the pitch, she says the environment is also changing but she’d like more support, more promotion from the FAI. She speaks wistfully of the ‘pink football’ campaign run for Ladies Football.
“I’d like to see us go down the route of what the Ladies Gaelic Football have been able to do, just by getting their marketing done. We see the difference that Lidl coming on board made as a main sponsor, having smart marketing campaigns to boost interest,” she says.
Current WNL sponsors the Só Hotels Group are in their first season with the clubs, with Boots launching their sponsorship of the national squad this week. Two more sponsorship announcements for the women’s game are expected shortly. Pink footballs? Duggan certainly hopes so.
She is hopeful not just for herself but for girls coming through Peamount’s structures. Last year the Women’s Under 17 National League was set up with 11 teams. Girls who go on to college can compete at the FISU (International university sports federation) games.
She says: “It’s great that there is now an U-17 league, that is really good progression. I still think there that there is room for more.
“I think the step even if you look at international level to go from U-19 to senior is quite a big jump in terms of development. Keeping girls interested through those college years is a real challenge. If there was an U-21 team, even one that doesn’t play competitively but played friendly matches, it would keep the interest.”
She stops as the ideas pour out, says making the current structure as professional as it can be is more realistic. She talks about refereeing, the setting of fixtures and adds: “You don’t want to run before you can walk”.
Duggan says ruefully the expected increase in attendances after the Women’s World Cup hasn’t happened yet at league games. Admitting it’s “disappointing” she’s hopeful Ireland’s campaign for the 2021 Europeans, kicking off on September 3rd, will help do the trick.
“As those girls become household names, people will see them on RTÉ and think ‘she’s five minutes down the road, I’ll go and see her playing again for Peamount or wherever’,” she says.
She does have an idea, naturally, suggesting clubs with men’s and women’s teams put on more double-headers. She points to the 2017 cup finals when Cork WFC and Cork FC were on the pitch on the same day, thereby boosting the women’s audience.
But in the meantime, there’s hopefully a league final ahead.
“I’d love to win a league. I think that would have a bearing on how long I would play. I’d probably stay going for another while if we don’t win, but if we do win I’ll either get the bug for winning or that will be my lot.”