'I couldn't kick a ball 30 yards' - Damien Duff on the moment he knew he had to hang up his boots
Published 11/03/2016 | 02:30
This is retirement Damien Duff style. A few weeks back, one of Irish football's most famous faces took a trip up the five-a-side facility in Loughlinstown and asked if they had a spare pitch going.
He wonders if the receptionist noted that the man enquiring about availability appeared to be flying solo.
"I was at a loose end and I just rented out a pitch on my own," he explains. "I felt weird going up asking for a pitch for one please."
"I just had a kickabout on my own, just kicking a ball against a wall, practising with my right foot. I don't know what I'm practising for but it's the love of the game. I don't think you can teach a kid that; they either have it or they don't."
Life has changed since the 37-year-old's body told him that a full year with Shamrock Rovers would be a step too far. He knew his stint in Tallaght would have to be cut short when he struggled to contribute to a Leinster Senior Cup semi-final with Bohemians last October.
"I couldn't kick a ball 30 yards," he sighs. "We got through to the final but I went home depressed. The missus was like 'What's wrong with you?' I didn't even tell her but I just knew in my heart of hearts.
"I always thought it would be a big decision but the next morning I went straight up to Pat (Fenlon) and said 'Listen, that's me. . .'"
A desire to keep playing ball at some level led to another idea. His brother plays with TEK United in the Leinster Senior League and he contemplated going that route; one friendly match up in Enniskerry put him off that notion.
"I saw a couple of tackles going in and I was like 'I ain't getting involved in this stuff'," he smiles. "It was a friendly with a view to signing but no, f**king no chance. I've had enough operations and enough problems. I'd like to be able to walk, so I haven't been back."
Five-a-side with his mates and trips to the gym will have to do to ensure that he stays in shape. There is also the attraction of the 'legends' circuit.
Last month, he went to Russia. "A five a side tournament in a big indoor arena beside the Olympic Stadium," he says, "Really great run. I had Mendieta, Zambrotta and the likes on my team. That's just me being a football fan, wanting to still play competitive football. There's a lot of that stuff going on but at the same time you don't want to be tearing the arse out of it.
"I'd like to feel as if I've earned a holiday. I don't want to turn into. . . I was going to compare myself with Kim Kardashian or someone there. A little socialite or something. I like to earn it.
"But that was an exciting trip. I always like the Eastern Bloc countries. They're weary, dark, but just really interesting."
Beyond that, he is now at the stage where his contribution to football revolves around watching others play the game. At Rovers, he coaches the U-15 side twice a week and it's taken a while to get his head around the responsibility.
"I was asked to go and do a bit with the left winger and as I was walking across to the other pitch, I was thinking 'I don't even know what to say to him here' because I didn't even know how I had done it. It just happened. That's when I was at my best. I probably struggled when I started to think about my game."
Duff does care about the development of the next generation, however, and is willing to give a bit back if he is asked by the FAI.
He read his old team-mate Graham Barrett's 7,000-word essay on the state of the nation and found himself agreeing with the argument that our kids are not spending enough hours kicking ball, although he is reluctant to delve into discussion of the structures. His view is that aspiring players should have a desire to improve themselves.
"Graham would have an awful lot more insight than me," he cautions. "I don't think kids get anywhere near the hours that they should (compared) to what England are doing.
"I just think there are so many distractions now - tablets, iPhones for 10- and 11-year-olds. I was probably hitting 20 or 30 hours a week back in 1990. I don't think kids get anywhere near that now.
"Everyone keeps saying we don't have coaches; I think it's absolute nonsense. Just go out on the street and kick a ball, that's what I did. It's just hours. Practice. You're teaching 10, 11 and 12-year-olds where to stand on a pitch - just let them go out and play and express themselves.
"But nowadays they're on Facebook, taking photos, chatting up girls or whatever. I hadn't even kissed a girl when I was going to England at 16. It's sad I know," he continues, laughing.
"I tell the lads out of Rovers this every week. It's just love of the game. I'd love to maybe give something back to the youth of Ireland, underage teams or whatever. But we'll see where the badges take me."
The other avenue he has pursued is punditry, a route that he never saw himself going down as he didn't pay too much heed to the RTE panel when he was in the spotlight.
"I guess it's like learning all over again for me," he says.
That process extends to watching games with an analytical eye, and taking feedback from producers about his own performance in the chair. Darragh Maloney sent a text on Wednesday urging him to tune in to messrs Giles, Brady and Dunphy and note their relaxed style.
There is an offer on the table to become a part of the studio operation for the Euros but he is adamant that he will steer clear of working on Ireland's games. He values long-standing friendships with members of the squad and doesn't want to risk saying anything that would compromise it.
Today, Martin O'Neill names his provisional panel for the friendlies with Switzerland and Slovakia later this month.
The appearance of another European finals over the horizon naturally brings back memories of Poland four years ago, a sobering experience that brought down the curtain on his own Irish journey. With a wry smile, he says that he's just about parked the memories of the disappointment.
"That summer coming home, you didn't want to leave the gaff and come into town for a few pints," he says. "You just wanted to keep the head down. But that's what you do in football. I've had bitter disappointments. I relegated Newcastle with an own-goal. But you move on; it would have been nice to go out on a better note."
His take on the importance of the Aviva dates is typically honest. The senior established pros with no fears over their place will view avoiding injury as the priority.
"For the likes of Harry Arter and Alan Judge trying to break into the 23, I'd like to think they'd be running around like men possessed," he asserts.
"Nearer the time, people don't want to get injured. I think we had Bosnia before we went to the last Euros and it was walking pace."
His thoughts on the main event generally fall in line with consensus; Sweden is the key game while Italy are the dark horse.
And Belgium? "First in the world in the rankings? It doesn't sound right, especially when Fellaini is playing for them."
That natural flair for the killer delivery should keep him in work on a screen near you.
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