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Duffy takes step up to the big time in his stride

SEVEN Irishmen were involved at Villa Park on Saturday and it was the performance of the youngest, Everton defender Shane Duffy, that left a real impression.

Both David Moyes and Phil Neville showered praise on the 20-year-old, who was making his first start at Premier League level.

Moyes was also satisfied with Darron Gibson, who showed up well after his Friday move before tiring later in the game. "He'll benefit from some games," said Moyes, "I think nine or 10 Premier League clubs would have liked to sign Gibson."

Duffy was happy with his contribution. After a couple of months on loan with Scunthorpe, an injury to Phil Jagielka has opened a window of opportunity.

"I'm delighted with my debut," he said. "It's a big pull for me to play in the Premier League. It happened quickly. "

Certainly, Moyes was content with the highly rated youngster. We put in a centre-half today that has never been in a Premier League game and he was terrific," said the Scot.

Duffy has already had the chance to impress Giovanni Trapattoni, but it almost had tragic consequences. He was invited into a training camp in the summer of 2010 and played a friendly game against the Irish amateur team at Malahide, where an accidental collision -- which ruptured the blood supply to his liver -- almost cost him his life. In the circumstances, he has made a remarkable comeback.

Shay Given was back in action on Saturday, too, after recovering from a hamstring problem and he made some good saves in a game that Everton started well.

A Villa side that also included Richard Dunne and Ciaran Clark took took the lead after the break when a Duffy clearance was turned back into the danger zone by a certain Stephen Ireland and Darren Bent converted.

The game's most influential performer was on loan from LA Galaxy, but it was Landon Donovan rather than Robbie Keane and the American teed up sub Victor Anichebe for the equalising goal.

Keane was sent into the fray for his Villa debut with nine minutes remaining, but the Irish skipper was unable to find space as the Everton rearguard finished strongly.

The most pleasing aspect of the match for Villa manager Alex McLeish was the continued renaissance of Ireland.

Chants of "there's only one Stephen Ireland" from the Holte End indicate he is winning over the Villa fans and McLeish declared: "Stephen was instrumental in a lot of the good football we played. He is in a good moment, there is no doubt about that."

Irish Independent