This Saturday (23 January), the Irish women’s football team is playing a friendly against one of its biggest opponents yet – Team USA, mid-victory tour. Taking to the San Diego field for the Ireland squad will be Karen Duggan, a talented midfielder and, in her day job, an analyst at Accenture.
Karen Duggan hails from Piltown, Co Kilkenny, and sport has always been a big part of her life. Born to a sporting family, she “played everything” when she was younger. Devoted to her big brother, she started playing football because he did, and it took over her life when she started getting places.
A primary school teacher noticed her talent first, and got her trialled for Munster, which was a launchpad for further advancement.
“I was in first year [of secondary school] when I first went for the Irish Schools team,” says Duggan. “I didn’t actually make it in first year – thought it was the end of the world.”
That early setback didn’t affect her long-term prospects all that much. She made the cut the following year and, from there, progressed through the ranks – under-15, under-17, under-19 and, finally, the senior squad.
She now plays on the Ireland squad and kits out for UCD Waves. A gruelling schedule – on-pitch training Wednesdays and Fridays, the gym Tuesdays and Thursdays, and weekend matches – doesn’t leave much downtime.
“Pretty much most evenings I’m either recovering or training, or playing matches,” says Duggan.
All this on top of a regular 9am to 5pm job as an analyst in Accenture’s management consulting division. And if you think that all sounds like a lot for any one person to manage, you’re not wrong.
All work and no play – seeking a balance
Duggan says juggling the two can be difficult. Lucky for her, she says, Accenture has been more than accommodating.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have been placed on Dublin-based projects, which is important for me because I need to make training in Dublin four times a week. They facilitated that for me.
“And they’ve given me extra time off. I’ve never had a problem when I say, ‘Oh, I need to take holidays this day’… There’s no, ‘No, we’re too busy on a project, we need you here’.”
Which is good, because Duggan has a busy year coming up. After this weekend’s match, she’s got the Cyprus Cup and then two very important Euro 2017 qualifiers. (The team is fighting to come back from two early losses to secure a spot on the grid for the Euros.)
Ireland squad huddles up. Karen Duggan pictured wearing No 19
And that’s just the football.
Her work at Accenture – working on a change management project, looking at testing and implementing technical processes for a client – is long-term, and will take up much of her time for at least the early part of the year.
“Lots of training, work and very little holidays. But it will be a good year, hopefully.”
That may depend on how the Euro qualifiers go. ‘Busy is good?’ we asked.
“Yeah, sometimes. When you’re winning, I suppose.”
Duggan laughs, but you can tell that’s not far from the truth. She speaks about the team’s motivation, and their determination to put in absolutely everything it takes to make it through the qualifying round.
“We do feel like this is a good chance for Ireland to qualify for a major tournament for the first time, but that’s going to take serious work considering we’re kind of starting from behind with the two losses.”
That motivation seeps into her working life, too, and she attributes a lot of her job successes to what football has taught her.
“I always say that football has helped me in everything. You have to be quite disciplined, and I think once you get a taste for reaching that high level, you kind of want to do it in all aspects of your life,” says Duggan.
Something to tell the grandkids
A lot of that may be driven by her love of the sport and of her job, which Duggan says always offers her something new and something exciting.
“That’s why I try to juggle work and football,” she says. “It would have been easy to do one or the other, but I enjoy both and I think it’s important for me to have that balance.”
It’s a little surprising, then – and yet, given her county of birth, perhaps not that surprising at all – that Duggan’s proudest moment comes not from football, or Accenture, but from camogie.
“We won an intermediate club All-Ireland Championship the last year with my club in Piltown. It was in front of everyone I’d grown up playing with – people I’d grown up with – in Croke Park, and with my tiny little parish! That was probably my best sporting achievement.”
Of course, though, the love of football is a very close second.
“Every time you play football for Ireland, I think it’s a huge honour, and something I’m sure I will look back on when I’ll be telling the stories to the grandkids.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing to say you did, that you worked full-time and you managed to represent your country at the highest level, and I think I couldn’t be prouder to say something like that.”
USA v Republic of Ireland kicks off at 10.30pm Irish time, Saturday 23 January.
Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.