'It's still a bit raw'- Damien Duff on why he won't be analysing Ireland games for RTÉ
As a newly recruited panellist, Damien Duff is happy to lend his considerable knowledge to RTÉ’s coverage of the upcoming European Championships, but just don't expect him to discuss the Ireland team.
It’s a well-worn path, the one which leads the recently retired athlete into the pundit’s chair. Damien Duff embarked on that particular journey with a degree of trepidation.
RTÉ presenter Darragh Maloney convinced the Ireland centurion to come down to the studio in Dublin 4 for a couple of Champions League games this season to wax lyrical on the best and brightest in the European club game.
Much to his surprise, Duff enjoyed the brief cameo on the other side of the fence and then committed a sizable portion of the summer to analysing a tournament that holds few happy memories for him.
Four years ago in Poznán, his illustrious international career came to an end when Ireland were defeated 2-0 by Italy. It was Ireland’s third loss in as many group games and, quite clearly, the pain has not subsided.
As such, and in light of his friendship with players in the current group, Duff has stipulated with the national broadcaster that he will not be offering any critical thoughts, constructive or otherwise, on Martin O’Neill’s charges.
Aside from that sole caveat, the former Chelsea winger is eagerly anticipating the coming fare.
“I won’t be doing any Irish games in the summer," he said at the launch of RTÉ’s Euro 2016 coverage.
“I got my schedule through the other day so I know what games I’ll be doing. I’m looking forward to it, it’s something a little bit different and Darragh Maloney has been brilliant with me.
“It’s probably still a bit raw, even though it is four years. I'm still close to some of the lads in the team, not that I have anything negative to say about them. I’m just not really ready to commentate or speak about Irish games.
“I still think the nights down in the RTÉ studio that we’ll be touching on the Irish lads and I can’t step out for that bit, so I guess I’ll have to talk about it.
“I’m excited for them, as a fan first and foremost, and I’m obviously still close to a couple of the boys in there, so I’ll be watching closely and looking forward to it.”
One such acquaintance is Robbie Keane. The pair were once the nation’s brash young guns, who lit up the 2002 World Cup with their brio and goals.
Keane, of course, is still battling a calf injury, and there is little chance of him being fit in time for the opening game against Sweden.
Duff is hoping that the Championships can prove a fitting swansong for Ireland’s record goal-scorer. He clearly would like to witness one of the Irish game’s greatest servants bow out from the international stage on a far happier note than he did.
“Speaking as a mate, I hope Robbie gets fit and back on the pitch. He hasn’t confirmed with me, but it’ll probably be his last few games for Ireland so I’d love to see him get a big goal and earn the lads a win.”
On the topic of strikers, Duff has been suitably impressed by Shane Long’s career best season for both club and country, and says watching the Tipp man in action is always compelling viewing.
“He’s been threatening to do it for a good few years now. He’s got such a talent. It’s just building that consistency in your game, that’s what catches people’s eye.
“He probably started a quarter of the way into the season when we beat Germany, and he scored that great goal and he’s gone on from there.
“Reading between the lines, it looks like the coaches at Southampton and Ronald Koeman have been working with him.
“He’s such an asset - his pace and power are amazing to watch. Like I said, it’s just about that consistency, and it’s great to see him doing so well.”
As for Ireland, ‘Duffer’ believes the result of the Swedish encounter will likely decide how far the Boys in Green go.
“I’m as optimistic as anyone going into this tournament. It’s a tough group again, but we have to start with a big result in a positive way. We didn't four years ago and it was an uphill battle from there.”