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Duff love

DAMIEN Duff has angrily dismissed criticism of the eagerness by senior Ireland players to play in friendly games after last night's 2-1 win over Paraguay at the RDS.

Former Ireland captain Roy Keane has repeatedly criticised the policy of allowing senior players to play in all the friendly games, accusing Shay Given of wanting to win 200 caps and only recently stating: "It's unfortunate for some of the young players coming through that they have to wait for lads to be injured. You need your core group of experienced players but these young lads, if they're good enough, throw them in".

Some fans, and some observers like the TV panel on RTE last night, were disappointed with a conservative approach to the Paraguay game by Giovanni Trapattoni, which saw the Italian start with his full-strength team, aside from Keiren Westwood, in for the injured Shay Given.

He handed fringe players like Keith Fahey, Cillian Sheridan and Paul Green cameo roles as substitutes, while leaving Manchester City man Greg Cunningham on the bench.

But Duff, who won his 82nd senior cap last night, says the senior players should get credit, not criticism, for playing in friendly games. "The fact that I am here in Dublin says a lot about how much I want to play for my country," said Duff, who played in an astonishing 52 games for his club this season.

"You get a bit of stick from some quarters for turning up for friendlies, but I don't see why that should happen. I would even have been here for the training camp last week if it had been possible. Myself, Robbie Keane and the other senior lads love coming over and love playing for our country. There is no prouder moment for me.

"I know Roy's had a pop at Shay in the past over this. I don't know what's gone on there so it's none of my business, but for me it's always an honour and a pleasure to play for my country.

"It was a good night for us last night and hopefully we'll have another good night against the Algerians on Friday."

Robbie Keane edged closer to the milestone of 100 caps last night - he's now on 98 - but there was also significance for Duff as he was Ireland captain, briefly, after Keane came off.

Duff took the captain's armband from Keane when the Tottenham man was replaced on 63 minutes and passed it to John O'Shea when Keith Fahey replaced Duff on 76 minutes.