Wednesday 21 August 2019

'All he wanted to do was play for Ireland' - Shane Duffy's father on son's journey from near death to centre stage

Shane Duffy
Shane Duffy

Jack O'Toole

"They were devastated, the players were absolutely devastated," said Brian Duffy, father of Republic of Ireland centre-back Shane, after Tuesday's 5-1 defeat to Denmark.

"Did you see James McClean's interview? He wasn't just like that in front of the cameras, you could barely talk to him. He was heartbroken. This was really tough to take for the players. They were embarrassed by the score."

Ireland's shortcomings with the diamond formation and their general lack of cohesion in defending set-pieces have been well documented, and while many pundits ripped through the Irish team for their abject performance, it's the player's families that are left to try and pick up the pieces.

"He's devastated," Brian said of Shane.

"He came back home with us to Derry after the match and it was only Thursday that things started to settle down a bit, but when I dropped him to Belfast on his way back to Brighton, you could see that it was just eating into him.

"Personally, I just kept saying to myself how am I going to speak to him? What am I supposed to say to this young lad? It's all new to us. All you can do is put your arm around his shoulder and say hard luck.

"The good thing is that he's got a quick turnaround as he's playing live on Sky on Monday night against Stoke. He needs to get back on the pitch. All these players need to get back on the pitch."

A similar sentiment was echoed by Burnley manager Sean Dyche earlier this week as he tries to massage the bruises of Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Ward heading into the Clarets match with Swansea on Saturday at Turf Moor.

Duffy will presumably slip straight back into the Brighton starting line-up when the eighth-placed Seagulls host Stoke at the Amex Stadium and Brian claims that his son can't wait to get back out there to try and put this Ireland defeat behind him.

Duffy made the relatively short journey from Belfast to Brighton on Thursday evening but it has been the long, arduous journey back to the international fold that has really been the most welcomed surprise for his family.

After making his Ireland debut against Costa Rica in the summer of 2014, Duffy had to wait nearly two years for a recall to Martin O'Neill's side and the 25-year-old finally received that call when he was given a surprise start against Switzerland in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly.

Duffy, who had played just one game for the national team before that night, was awarded man of the match honours for his performance which was followed by breaking into the starting team against Italy at the Euro's.

His display in Lille would see him start prematurely finish the second round tie against France, which was then followed by appearances in every game he was available for during the most recent World Cup qualifying campaign.

However, despite all the highs in France last summer, the Switzerland game still stands out as Brian's favourite because of what it meant to his family and all the years of struggle that preceded an otherwise innocuous friendly.

"That match was massive for us. We had all of Shane's family there and it was massive after what had happened to him (Duffy had a near death experience after he sliced his liver in a freak training ground accident in 2010).

"I know it has affected Shane but it has affected so many of us. A lot of people keep asking me how lucky are you to still have your boy? And I am, but everyone rallied around and everybody had helped everybody and it's amazing how quickly he has developed from there."

The last two years of Duffy's development has accelerated rapidly as he's progressed from fringe squad member to key player, and potentially, a future captain.

As a sign of his progression, the week before the Switzerland game, Duffy had scored a late winner to give a 10-man Blackburn Rovers side a 1-0 victory over Brentford at Griffin Park. That night the Derry native was tasked with defending current Danubio forward Leandro Rodriguez.

By comparison, in his final game before the win over Wales last month, he had to face Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette and Arsenal in front of 59,378 people at the Emirates Stadium.

This season alone he has had to defend Salomón Rondón, Jermain Defoe, Jamie Vardy, Andre Gray, Gabriel Jesus, Tammy Abraham, Manolo Gabbiadini and Sergio Agüero.

On Monday he will most likely face Stoke's Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Xherdan Shaqiri. The following week he'll head to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, where he'll most likely come up against Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Henrik Mhikitaryan.

Playing against the Sanchez's and the Lacazette's instead of the Leandro Rodriguez's has brought Duffy's game on ten-fold, and while he won't be heading to Russia next summer as part of an Irish World Cup squad, he has arrived at a stage of his career that he's been striving to reach his entire life.

"He's just a real good character and this is everything he's ever wanted. He always wanted to play for Ireland on the big stage, he always wanted to play in the Premier League against the big players, he's always wanted this.

"We supported him every step of the way and everything that we could ever do for him we did. The rewards are fantastic but I always say to him enjoy the highs because the lows are just around the corner and that's football for you. It's just a tough, tough place to be."

The highs have never been higher and the lows have indeed been lower, but he's in a much better place than he once was, even if this week has been more difficult than most.

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