Monday 14 October 2019

Shane Duffy takes aim at critics as he seeks to keep up scoring run

Defender remains Ireland's most likely source of goals, writes David Kelly

Shane Duffy is hoping to silence Ireland’s critics. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Shane Duffy is hoping to silence Ireland’s critics. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Eoin Hand used to tell a great yarn about David O'Leary and the myth of goal-scoring central defenders.

And depending on your point of view, it probably says more about David O'Leary's opinion of himself than Hand's opinion of central defenders; the former Irish manager was not alone in not always sharing the player's lofty self-regard.

Hand remembers settling down to watch Arsenal on the 'The Big Match' of a Sunday afternoon and chuckling to himself as Brian Moore delivered a ritual, solemn declaration before every Arsenal corner.

"And here come the big men now, up from the back, a real goal-scoring threat for Arsenal!"

"But here's the thing!" Hand would laugh. "Arsenal would have a good few corners a game, say even just five on average.

"O'Leary would go up for every single one. He played over 550 games for Arsenal. That's over 2,500 chances. And how many goals did he score? Eleven!"

So when Shane Duffy tells us this week he wants to score more goals, the natural temptation might be to scoff and issue a gentle reminder to mind his own house first before he tries to burgle someone else's.

Then again, perhaps not. He's only played a third of the amount of internationals as O'Leary (21/68) yet he has already scored twice as many goals in green.

While obviously his top-flight career has been limited, the Derryman still knows how to find the net - his two goals, in far less distinguished circumstances, already betters his vaunted predecessor. He can put his money where his mouth is.

"I feel like I can score in every game," he says. "I feel like I'm a threat at set-pieces in the box.

"I know centre-halves don't normally speak like that, but I do. Every time we get a corner, I feel I can score. I feel like I'll always get a chance.

"But it's up to me to work hard and try to score more goals. It's obviously not the most important thing that I have to worry about, that's my defending and keeping clean sheets. But it's always a nice bonus if you can help the team by scoring."

For all the cracks about O'Leary's supposed 'goal threat'; it was never taken seriously because there were others in his Irish teams far more capable of doing the job themselves.

Cavalier

Not so in 2018. Duffy plays for Brighton - hardly a cavalier outfit - and yet is Ireland's top scorer in the Premier League. There are few candidates to challenge his Irish record and even less confidence in their ability to do so.

Of the available strikers at Ireland's disposal this week, Shane Long, Callum Robinson, Sean Maguire, Aiden O'Brien and Scott Hogan have shared just 18 goals between them.

Read more: In-form Stevens ready to seize his long-awaited opportunity with Ireland

Oh, and 17 of those belong to Long, still immersed in the now two-year hiatus as he awaits his 18th amidst another fitness battle.

Ireland relying on Storm Callum to bail them out could be quite a stretch. Which is where Duffy comes in.

"I don't feel more pressure, I just feel the same pressure every game - I want to score for the team I'm playing for.

"Obviously there's a bit more pressure because it's your country, but if I get a chance on Saturday I feel like I could score again.

"It's just down to me to try and work hard and get the ball in the back of the net."

His two goals this term - against Manchester United and Southampton - have already compensated for his blank canvas for Chris Hughton's team during their maiden campaign in the top-flight last term.

"Yeah, it was a massive disappointment last year that I didn't score a goal.

"I sort of aim for at least a few goals a season and I didn't score last year, which was disappointing for the number of attempts I had.

"This year I got off to a nice start. I have two already, so I hope I can add a few more to that."

Duffy's form with Brighton was recently rewarded with a five-year contract; the consistent central defensive pairing with Lewis Dunk reflected in the latter's call-up for England.

Another illustration that players with moderate starts, if properly nurtured, can thrive at a higher level, a lesson not always absorbed by Duffy's Ireland.

For a brief few moments last year, it seemed like Ireland could re-establish that critical connection but, after Duffy had once more indicated his goal-scoring touch in the second-leg of the World Cup play-off against Denmark, the house of cards came crashing down.

"For a couple of minutes I was happy and then it was a bad 20 minutes after it. You can't really dwell on it. For these games you can't really think it's a bit of a revenge game. It's not.

"They got to the World Cup and we didn't and over the two legs they deserved it because they beat us. It's up to us now, we've got to play them on Saturday.

"I'm looking forward to getting the chance to play and hopefully put it right and don't leave here with the same feeling as last time.

"I've had some bad time on the pitch but that would definitely be one of the worst. It was bad."

Asked how Ireland can reverse their fortunes, his answer - "Sure, we've done it before" - also includes the word "hope".

You prod him in the anticipation that there's more than mere hope after last month's chaos. When pressed, he declares belief and takes aim at the team's critics.

"It's more you guys sort of blowing the thing up. On the field it has always been about the two games and sticking together and the manager is keen on that from what he says to us.

"It's about what's in here now. There was stuff that came out recently which we try not to let affect us. We try to put performances in and try and win, and hopefully we'll put a good one in and win."

Irish Independent

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