Sunday 25 February 2018

'I just had to get my head right' - Rejuvenated Shane Duffy delighted to be back to his best

Shane Duffy celebrates alongside Robbie Brady after a towering performance in Ireland’s victory over Wales. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Shane Duffy celebrates alongside Robbie Brady after a towering performance in Ireland’s victory over Wales. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It's just over a year since Shane Duffy ended his nightmare spell with Blackburn and in the 15 months since he has resurrected a career that had been threatening to spiral downwards.

Duffy copped plenty of flak when he signed off his time at Blackburn with three own goals and a red card in his final two league games but since moving to Brighton, and playing under Chris Hughton, he has recaptured his best form.

Brighton are flying high in their first season in the Premier League and just as he has been with Ireland in recent months, Duffy has been at the heart of everything good about them.

It helps too that since the Euros last summer, the Derryman is one of the first names on Martin O'Neill's team sheet and as he reflects on how far he has come since those tough days at Ewood Park last year, he believes that there is still more to come.

"If you look back at a year ago, now it's day and night really," Duffy admits.

"I'm just happy it's going well. I've been at the low parts and I'm just enjoying a little bit of success at the minute where everything is going well. I just have to keep going. I can't go back to that level.

"It's great. It's something that I have been doing but it's just now that it's at a different level, it's obviously highlighted a little bit more. There is a lot more media about it. But that's just what the Premier League offers.

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"It's obviously nice. You've got to enjoy it while it lasts because you could have a stinker and then you'll get hammered."

The days of Owen Coyle questioning his mentality are now a distant memory. Working under the likes of Hughton and O'Neill, both renowned for their man-managing skills, has given him the confidence that he does belong at the top level.

"I never questioned myself. I always thought this is football, you don't turn into a bad player, it's just form and everyone loses form," he insists.

"I just had to get my head right. The Brighton move helped me develop into a better player, playing in a better team. International football has brought me a long way and I think I'm just going to get stronger hopefully."

He may only have won 15 caps but Duffy is quickly establishing himself as one of O'Neill's go-to men and that is reflected by the confidence with which he now has when linking up with the squad.

"I think naturally you do, because I have played a little bit more than the first couple of times. I'm still the same when I'm in with the lads. I feel like I have to try ... hopefully I can get into the team. I think like that every time I come in.

"If I look back over the last year or two, I would say I have come a long way. That's what I have to keep doing and hopefully in another year's time, I have come another long way."

For a fleeting moment last month, Duffy feared that he may not even make it to Dublin to rejoin the Ireland squad after hearing a "pop" in his groin. Scans later revealed that he had a cyst and the pain has since eased after having had an injection.

The 6ft 4in defender is expected to keep his place at the heart of Ireland's defence alongside Ciaran Clark for Saturday's first leg in Copenhagen and it's a partnership that O'Neill knows he can rely on.

"Obviously communication is a big factor," Clark says. "We try and both cover each other at all times. We expect someone to miss the ball and hopefully the other one is there to cover up if that does happen.

"To be fair to Duffer, he doesn't miss too many especially when it's coming in the air. That's what it's about, being switched on, preparing for the worst."

Duffy echos the Newcastle defender's sentiments. "Clarky's been brilliant, I really enjoy playing alongside him and it's good to have someone who you are that comfortable with.

The partnership has been getting stronger from the first time we played together so the more it stays together, it's only going to get better. It's still quite young in terms of the relationship and the longer we can play together, the better."

The mood in the Ireland camp has an added edge this week and even though the players are trying to convince themselves that it is 'just another international game', they realise what is at stake.

Last year's Euros in France gave Duffy a taste for a major tournament and he wants to take a bigger bite in Russia next summer.

"I was speaking before to James (McClean), I wasn't really a part of it (Euros) at all. I didn't really know anyone to be fair. I was celebrating at the end but I was just celebrating as a fan.

"I was there but this time I feel like I've made a little bit of a contribution to it so obviously it will be a great feeling if the final whistle goes on Tuesday and we're through. It will be a proud moment and probably one of the best of my career.

"I think we have got to go there (Copenhagen) and win, try and score. You have got to go into every game like it's the Wales game, you've got to win.

"If you approach it like that, for me it's the best way. If you go there thinking you've got another game, you could get punished and they could hurt you. I wouldn't have anything to fear against anyone. I think we can beat anyone on our day, no matter who they are.

"You've got to think about the rewards, and the reward here is the World Cup.

"You have to have the game of your life really, and that's what we want to do."

Irish Independent

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