'You can't go on the piss every night, but you need nights out - that's our culture'
Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30
Patriotism was in full splendour in Dublin city centre on Thursday, with the Healy-Rae brothers atop their SUV at the gates of Leinster House in full céilí mode to mark the reopening of the Dáil, but around the corner in Grafton Street Damien Duff was illustrating why he remains a national hero after his playing days.
Through the estimated €20m he accumulated from his career, Duff could afford to travel five star to Ireland's Euro 2016 game against Belgium in Bordeaux in June, yet the traits which drew him acclaim over and above his contribution for club and country are as prevalent today in the aftermath of his retirement at Christmas.
"Just looking at prices of flights and everything for the Belgium match, it's incredible," says the 37-year-old. "That's big money. People are working hard and are making sacrifices to go. My friend said, 'I'm not paying that, I can't pay that.' I've nothing booked."
As he did to Slovakia in 2007 while injured, Duff will travel to France as a fan.
Four years ago in Poland, he witnessed the supporters' reputation soar despite the players crumbling on the pitch. The suspicion that all was not well in the Irish camp during that tournament came to light in subsequent revelations by a string of players critical of Giovanni Trapattoni's regime.
Although Duff's admiration for the Italian is undimmed, he felt the FAI's decision to base the squad in Sopot represented the biggest blunder.
"It was like staying in Ayia Napa or Playa Del Ingles. You look back and think, 'who goes over and chooses these things?'. We had been in a long camp and remember it being tough and boring. I guess that's the Italians; like a Serie A team which goes to hotels three days before a game and even stays the night after the game.
"You can't expect to be going out on the piss every night - England did that in 1996 and got slaughtered after 'the dentist's chair' - but there is a happy medium with a couple of nights out. That's our culture."
In that respect, Duff is glad to see Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane have adopted a different approach this time, taking the squad to Fota Island in Cork for a week first before concentration intensifies at their base in Versailles ahead of the opener against Sweden on June 13.
"Martin and Roy aren't stupid. I'm sure Robbie (Keane) said 'give us a couple of nights out'. The Irish players like to drink and, if you give us a couple of beers, then we'll live off that for a week. Sometimes it's nice to have a wander out and have a beer, but Sopot was pretty extreme. I know my history and I wouldn't say there's an awful lot going on in Versailles."
Meanwhile, Duff has advised the traditionalists at Manchester United to appoint his former boss Jose Mourinho if they're to avoid getting left further behind by Manchester City.
City have made a big statement by headhunting Pep Guardiola, meaning United must attempt to keep pace amid a season of turmoil at Old Trafford.
"There are some strange decisions going at Manchester United," reasons Duff, who won two Premier League titles under Mourinho at Chelsea. "There are a few people on the board of directors who have votes and don't want him in there. But, for me, it's a no-brainer. It is the only option they have, especially after who City have appointed. You can say Mourinho is a troublemaker, and they're worried about that, but I think Louis van Gaal gets into a bit trouble himself. It's just bizarre.
"Mourinho made us feel like champions before we were champions at Chelsea. He turned, more or less, the squad that Claudio Ranieri had into double Premier League winners. The team spirit he created was great, possibly better than any Ireland team I've been in. For me, he just guarantees leagues and cups.
"I think it's a bit unfair to say he's tainted by what happened this season at Chelsea. Six months ago, they were champions. When I think Jose Mourinho, I think guaranteed trophies. Look at his CV, say no more."
Sunday Indo Sport