Sunday 21 January 2018

Accident has Duffy primed to grasp every opportunity

Shane Duffy going through his paces during the Ireland squad’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium. DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE
Shane Duffy going through his paces during the Ireland squad’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium. DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

A grim tussle with one's very existence will change a human being irreparably.

It informs you with a different worldview. It changes you. When something intense happens to a friend or colleague, good or bad, you react differently.

No longer do you immediately think of it in terms of what it means for you. You think about what it means to them.

The notable freak training ground incident that could have had fatal, never mind professional, consequences for Blackburn Rovers defender Shane Duffy has ineradicably altered his persona.

"In football you can never get too high or too low because you end up getting caught," he says. "You have got to try to stay level-headed and that's what I am trying to do, obviously not since the accident but more since then I've looked at life a bit. Just stay level because you have highs and lows."

So it was when fellow Northern Irishman Marc Wilson received the devastating confirmation that his knee injury would scupper the last vestiges of his Euro 2016 hopes.

Many might have whooped in delight, particularly those like Duffy, the best-placed candidate to step into the defensive breach before Martin O'Neill finalises his squad after next week's Cork friendly against Belarus.

Duffy's first instinct, though, was at a more gut, human level. Genuinely so. "Of course you would not like to see it happen to anyone because I have been there," he tells you.

It is almost six years ago to the day since the then 18-year-old suffered the accident that left him with a lacerated liver; perspective, understandably, comes with ease.

"It's unfortunate for Marc because he has been a big part of the qualifying and it's never nice to see somebody getting injured before a big tournament," says the defender. "I am sure he would have been on the plane and played a key part."

Naturally, for it is also an innate disposition, the professional element of Duffy's character then kicked in. Having impressed against Switzerland in March, in defence and in supplying a headed, set-piece assist for the only goal of the game, the one-time Everton squad member is now left to assess where he stands. According to O'Neill, who will grant him only the third cap of an interrupted international career against Holland this Friday, he is primed.

"I don't want to heap an awful lot of expectation on him but I think he's done fine," says his boss. "I also think that he displayed against Switzerland that he can be a threat in the opposition box too. But I don't want to put everything into one game; he has played all season as well."

This is Duffy's opportunity; life has braced him to make the most of every one.

"It's football and these things happen in football which you don't want to see really," he adds. "I've just got to have a big week and hopefully I can persuade the manager to take me and that's what I will be doing in every training session. You've got to take the chance because it might not happen again for me. You don't know what is around the corner."

Ask him if he still reflects on what happened following the sickening collision during a practice match in Malahide six years ago and he is unwaveringly certain.


"Every day. And not just now because I'm back involved in the squad. I do look at life a little bit differently because, obviously, I mightn't have been here.

"It was a big thing in my life which probably turned me around and made me stronger. So I've just got to keep my head down now and try and enjoy my football. And that's what I'm doing."

Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark sat out yesterday's sun-splashed open training event at the Aviva Stadium with some mild Achilles trouble; the result of just one more kicking of many during the Birmingham club's dismal campaign.

Dismissing speculation of a move - quite simply, nobody has been in touch with him - Clark, like Duffy, is appreciative for different reasons.

"You can unwind from the club stuff," Clark admits. "Now I just want to concentrate on getting on that plane."

Both admit they simply weren't ready for Euro 2012. They are ready now.

Irish Independent

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