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Shane Duffy return a major boost for Ireland ahead of Euro 2020 play-off

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Shane Duffy challenges Watford’s Troy Deeney during Brighton’s 1-1 draw on Saturday. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Shane Duffy challenges Watford’s Troy Deeney during Brighton’s 1-1 draw on Saturday. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

REUTERS

Shane Duffy challenges Watford’s Troy Deeney during Brighton’s 1-1 draw on Saturday. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

For the sake of the short term, the return of Shane Duffy was the positive note from the Irish weekend in England.

With a longer-term perspective, it was steps forward in the career of Championship defensive duo Dara O'Shea and Sean McLoughlin that provided the greatest source of encouragement.

Duffy made a comeback after an operation on his shin to go straight into the Brighton side for Saturday's draw with Watford. Aaron Connolly was an unused sub for the crucial Premier League encounter.

Mick McCarthy had said with certainty that he had no fears about Duffy's wellbeing with March's Euro 2020 playoff in mind.

Nevertheless, the fact that Duffy came through the 90 minutes without incident will hearten the manager given that the Derryman has endured a campaign of mixed fortunes.

The progress of O'Shea and McLoughlin is more likely to be relevant to Stephen Kenny.

O'Shea has starred for Kenny's U-21 side this term and has finally broken into the West Brom team after spending the first half of the campaign on the fringes.

The St Kevin's Boys product is a centre-half, yet he's plugged a gap at right-full for Slaven Bilic and nabbed his first senior goal to seal a win against Millwall yesterday, with his international colleague Jayson Molumby on the opposite side.

O'Shea recently signed a new deal that will keep him at the Hawthorns until 2023 and he's at a club that look firm favourites to secure promotion.

Meanwhile, ex-Cork City defender Sean McLoughlin impressed for Hull City after making his first league start for the club in their draw with Reading.

The 23-year-old moved through the ranks of Cork football and returned for a second spell on the books of City following a stint with UCC.

He established a strong reputation within the League of Ireland and current Hull boss Grant McCann was a big admirer of McLoughlin while he was manager of Doncaster Rovers.

They signed free agent Kieran Sadlier at that juncture but when McCann was hired by Hull, he got his club to splash the cash on the versatile defender.

McLoughlin was dispatched to St Mirren for the first half of the campaign and returned back to base last month.

An injury crisis opened the door for his inclusion at Reading and he clearly made an impression upon his introduction to Championship football.

The Hull Daily Mail led yesterday on a piece arguing that McLoughlin should be the first name on their teamsheet for their next game with Blackburn.

"I thought he was very good," said McCann. "That's what he can bring. He's really reliable, he passes the ball crisply, he can step in and see pictures."

Back in McLoughlin's part of the world, Cobh Ramblers have launched an appeal for help after Storm Ciara destroyed the dugouts at their St Colman's Park base.

The First Division club sent out an appeal for help on social media, stating that the damage "isn't something that we had planned for financially with the new season set to start."

Their statement added: "We would be grateful if any local businesses or individuals could be of assistance in the repair."

Finn Harps completed the signing of Barry McNamee from rivals Derry City on Saturday. McNamee was keen on a switch to a part-time club with a view to preparing for his future off the park and Ollie Horgan saw off opposition from clubs in the Irish League to secure the midfielder's signature.

"There were a few teams in the North that I was close with but in the end I went with my gut," he said.

McNamee's brother Tony is a fan favourite at Harps and his younger brother Shane is also expected to join the club from Derry City.

Irish Independent