Saturday 20 April 2019

'Best response to tennis racket was to hit the net' - Shane Duffy admits fan protest was 'a bit weird'

Conor Hourihane (centre) celebrates scoring the winner against Georgia with Robbie Brady, James McClean, Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Hourihane (centre) celebrates scoring the winner against Georgia with Robbie Brady, James McClean, Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Motivation once again.

A simple plan, players in their correct positions, concise preparation, an absence of confusion.

The only thing that threatened to de-rail Ireland's leap towards the summit of Group D was less than friendly fire from the South Stand, the tennis ball invasion which postponed Conor Hourihane's sweetest of strikes.

Captain Seamus Coleman said the impromptu protest threatened to derail his side's momentum after a vibrant half-hour which had washed away the cobwebs of the tired Martin O'Neill era.

“At the time we were worried about the momentum being lost,” said captain Seamus Coleman. “We were worried it might slow down the atmosphere.

“But they put up a roar after it happened and immediately got behind us and then Conor smashed that free-kick in.

“Listen, we were pressing high and getting crosses in the box and an Irish crowd always likes to see that so I think they were behind us tonight.”

Defender Shane Duffy said that his side were expecting the game to be interrupted at some stage and had been prepared for it.

“It was a bit weird. I think we all expected it to happen but were hoping it wouldn't happen, we all read newspapers and social media.

But we're professionals, we dealt with it. And the best response was to put it in the net and that's what we did.

“That got the crowd going and took the distractions away. It happened and fans have their opinions, rightly so.

“We need to take care of things to distract them from whatever is going on, that's our job as professionals to get three points so hopefully Irish fans are happy tonight.”

Glenn Whelan, once retired and discarded, returned to play a practical role as a defensive midfielder, charged with starting play.

His surprise return was matched by a rare appearance in the mixed zone.

“I think there was something said yesterday in the press about a sort of protest and listen, it was probably bad timing but in saying that now, Conor has gone on to score.

“So the next time we get a free kick, hopefully they've all got their tennis balls! No, obviously, the fans are disgruntled, they have a right to say or to protest whatever they want, but we can only worry about what happens on the pitch.

“I play with Conor week in, week out and to be honest with you, once he set the ball down I knew that something was going to happen - either he'd make the keeper work or we'd get a goal.

It was a fantastic piece of play from Conor and he's just had a kid as well, so everyone's happy for him.We used Shane Duffy as a blocker at the end of the wall.

“It's something that we did work on but we don't want you telling everybody! Shane is a big lad, so obviously trying to block the goalkeeper's view and no better man than Shane Duffy - he's probably got one of the biggest heads in Ireland and would block out most things.”

Whelan is one of several players revived by the new regime.

“It was a privilege to come back and put the jersey on. I never retired, I understood what Martin O'Neill was doing because I was getting on in age and I'm very grateful to Martin.

“In November I thought that was the last time I'd ever do it, so to get the phone call to come back, there was no second question about it, it was, 'Get the tickets booked, I'm there'.

“I know where I stand, I know I'm getting on a little bit and if I come in and do my part, I'm more than happy.

“It's something I've always wanted as a kid and to get the phone call was really good, to get a start tonight was excellent.”

David McGoldrick, another once discarded player, was afforded a standing ovation when withdrawn in the 82nd minute after a tireless, selfless shift up front when, despite his lone striking role, he combined well with supporting players allowed to join up with the play.

“It was surreal, playing for your country and getting an ovation,” said the Sheffield United hot-shot. “It was one of the proudest moments of my career even if I didn't score, I just wanted to help my team. I know under this manager with that lone role I have to work my socks off.

“It was a 4-3-3 but they get a lot of possession and I knew I would have to hold the ball up when it came to me and bring other players into the game and I thought I did that.

“I nearly got a penalty, I told the referee I wouldn't go down if I didn't need to. Then I had a chance and if my touch was better I might have been able to score an open goal.

But we got the win and it's great to have six points. Gibraltar was a strange match, like nothing I've ever experienced. Today we wanted to show what we were about and I thought we did that.”

Motivation again, momentum too.

“The aim was to get two wins and that's what we've done,” adds Duffy. “We were very good in the first-half and we could have scored more goals.

“But overall it's a new camp and we're delighted. Mick is delighted, he wanted the fighting Irish spirit back and we showed that in the second-half when we ground it out. But we were the better team tonight.

“We can only do what is in front of us, we have taken care of these games, nobody remembers the performances once you win and we can build on this. It's a fresh start for the players and you can see some of the performances tonight, they were superb. Exciting times hopefully.”

“The two games were a little bit like banana skins, Gibraltar was a tough game with the conditions but yeah, two wins and two clean sheets, something to work on,” adds Whelan.

“And definitely we'll come back in the summer with a bit of confidence because we know the last 12 months have been a little bit difficult, but hopefully we've got the fans back onside a little bit and obviously gave them a little bit to shout about.

“It's a good result and we'll go on from here.”

Whelan knows he may not necessarily go all the way from here but he will play his part.

“If some of the young lads coming through need a little bit of experience, and if I can pass that on, there are only four or five of us with that experience.”

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