Monday 26 September 2016

'I'm gutted for him' - Damien Duff unfazed by Robbie Keane's potential Sweden absence

Barry Lennon

Published 02/06/2016 | 02:30

Duff: Happy with senior players. Photo: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Duff: Happy with senior players. Photo: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Damien Duff believes Robbie Keane's possible absence from the Republic of Ireland's opening Euro 2016 fixture isn't a worry for manager Martin O'Neill as the striker faces a battle to be fit in time.

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The former international says there are other options available if the veteran misses out on the Sweden clash on June 13 due to a calf injury.

"There's obviously lads to step in. Shane Long is doing great at club level - he looked like he did well (against Belarus). Jon Walters played a big part in the campaign," he said.

"Obviously I'm a good friend of Rob's, I'd be starting him on every game. I'm gutted for him that he might miss the first game."

Duff sympathised with Keane's plight, citing calf problems he suffered himself during his playing career.

"When you're coming back you have to be careful and make sure you don't do it again because your tournament would be over," he said.

The 35-year-old Keane will be part of the oldest squad at the competition - with an average age of 29.8.

Benefit

However, Duff believes the experience of Ireland's ageing squad will be of benefit to O'Neill and he should not be worried ahead of the tournament.

"You can argue it both ways. Young lads obviously have fresh legs but old lads have experience and I'd always choose experience, obviously with a dash of youth (in the team).

"But with me being an old boy I'll stick with them (senior players)."

The Ireland squad were also the oldest side during the Euro 2012 campaign in Poland where Duff ended his international playing days.

He believes that lessons can be learned from the last time out but warned that things are shaping up as they did in the previous tournament.

"It's the exactly same as four years ago with a similar group and that's very tough. We knew four years ago that if we didn't get a result (in the first game), it would be an uphill battle. Spain scored two or three minutes into the second game and we might as well have walked off the pitch and backed our bags. Croatia, it started there and it's the same with Sweden this time."

The former winger believes that the key to a good start for O'Neill's men is stopping Sweden's top striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "Not saying they're a one-man squad but if you stop him you fancy your chances."

The 37-year-old will join RTÉ as a pundit during the national broadcaster's coverage of the tournament but wishes to steer clear of criticising former team-mates.

He has specifically asked not to take part in coverage of any of Ireland's fixtures

"I've still got friends in and around the squad and on the plane (to France). Not that I've anything negative to say about them anyway. I just want to ease into the TV role."

Duff was speaking as RTÉ launched its Euros coverage at the French Embassy in Dublin yesterday where ambassador Jean-Pierre Thébault says fans travelling to France should not fear a terrorism attack.

However, he added that: "We can't promise there is 100pc security but there is such a huge endeavour (to prevent an attack).

"Fundamentally, it is probably the best-protected moment that has been organised."

Irish Independent

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