Thursday 14 December 2017

'Euros were horrendous, but if your kids are sick it puts it in perspective'

Damien Duff acknowledges the supporters after the final match for Ireland - against Italy in Poznan at Euro 2012
Damien Duff acknowledges the supporters after the final match for Ireland - against Italy in Poznan at Euro 2012
David Kelly

David Kelly

"AH, I thought I got rid of youse!" The familiar accent of the Ballyboden bomber, Damien Duff, beams a friendly greeting across the courtyard of Carmichael House, a magnificent facility housing a raft of invaluable voluntary organisations.

He is here to speak on behalf of Heart Children Ireland and, in his arms, clutching the primary reason for his return to Dublin: two-year-old Woody.

Like father, like son, Woody parades a blonde barnet and is taking a midday nap. The Duff penchant for sleep and avoidance of the media glare seems set to run in the family.

This time last year, Duff was preparing for Ireland's ill-fated Euro 2012 campaign; last weekend, as Ireland played in Lansdowne Road, he was celebrating the Christening of his second child, daughter Darcy.

"What a difference a year makes," he muses. Well, do you miss us? He exhales a characteristic collection of noises to indicate indifference.

"Pffffggggghhhhtttt! I dunno, it's hard to say. I was prepared when it was finished, I knew deep down it was the right time. I can't really say now when I'm watching the games that I'm devastated that I'm not out there.

"A million per cent I made the right decision. I'm happy with it and I stand by it. So do I miss it? Phhffftt, Not really.

"Family wasn't an issue at all; I didn't have to speak to my wife Elaine or anyone about it. I just knew deep down. I had a long hard think about it over the summer. I just knew."

There have been vague entreaties from Giovanni Trapattoni, who once again invoked Duff's abilities to keep possession for his team this week – "yeah, I'm a good diver", Duff laughs – but most resided within the realms of fantasy.

"I'd obviously text the lads and wish them luck before games, I'd see Marco Tardelli a lot at Craven Cottage. I heard there were bits that I was coming back out of retirement, but it was all nonsense. When you retire, I think you should stay that way.

"I just felt I gave it a lash. It was time to move aside and if anyone else wanted a go, there you go, you know.

"There were no other reasons, no family reasons, not body-wise or anything because I still feel good. I just felt it deep down in my gut and you have to listen to that. Time to move on."

ADMIRATION

'Duffer' still loves playing football, though, and retains huge admiration for his old mucker Robbie Keane, who seems in no haste to quit the Irish scene. "I'll be playing on, I'll play for the Dog And Duck when I'm 56 or 60 whatever," he insists.

"Fair pay to Robbie, I text him to wish him luck before the (Faroes) game. The goals record is never going to be beaten, possibly the appearances record as well."

Duff may not be going to the World Cup in Rio but he doesn't rule out Ireland's chances. "Never write off the Trap. People have done it before and been proved wrong. They have a chance."

He retired after his 100th cap – "a nice round number" – and he could have decided to make a high-profile Wembley return last month to ceremoniously receive that honour except, well, he's Duffer, isn't he?

"Roy Hodgson (Duff's old Fulham boss) asked me to do it on the pitch," he explains. "I said, 'no chance gaffer, you must know me by now, that's not going to happen'. As much as it might have been a beautiful thing to happen and look back on, it wasn't for me."

Do not be fooled that Duff regards the honour as a triviality; when FIFA briefly threatened to strand him on 99 after questioning the validity of last year's Hungary friendly, the former Chelsea man was livid.

"When they tried to take it away from me, I was the hungry one. That's when I started bulling a bit and I realised it was a big thing. I would have banged on (Michel) Platini's or (Sepp) Blatter's door."

In fact, he did receive his 100th cap – in a Wetherspoons pub in Heathrow Airport after bumping into FAI chief executive John Delaney.

"He never tracked me down but he had it with him. Hey, I'm a classy kind of guy! So that was nice. I prefer it that way."

Normally, Duff would only open the door to the media because he knew that minutes later he'd be able to close the door on his way out.

He is speaking about something close to his heart, a personal turmoil that dispatched worries about 1-0 home defeats to the ha'penny place.

As Woody bounces away to greet his grandparents, Duff recalls the moment of his 32-week scan when his baby was diagnosed with what the layman terms a hole in the heart.

"It was the end of the world at the time," he says softly. "But he's kicked on. You take your health for granted these days.

"We mentioned the Euros before. What a horrendous time for Irish soccer. But then when you go home to your kids, especially when they've a health issue, it puts things in perspective."

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