Thursday 14 December 2017

Duffy style a throwback to halcyon days of rugged Irish central defenders

Shane Duffy during squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Co Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Duffy during squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Co Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Shane Duffy admits he is still on a learning curve as an international centre-back but he has no delusions of grandeur about his style of play.

Citing former Manchester United and England captain Rio Ferdinand as an example of a 'footballing' central defender, Duffy says: "I couldn't do what he does.

"You might want to do it that way, but you're your own player and want to develop your own style of play. That's what I've done and I'm happy about the way I play the game."

And so he should be. Duffy is cut from the mould of traditional Irish centre-backs - the big man who goes in hard and often, and who relishes the physical battle with opposition strikers.

Think Charlie Hurley, Mick McCarthy and Richard Dunne as classic exponents of no-nonsense defending.

It's not that Duffy is unable to play the ball around when that is what is required.

The Derry man has gradually enhanced his comfort level in that department, but never forgets that his first duty is to minimise or clear any threats to his team's goal area.

If a tackle needs to be made, he makes it; if the ball needs to headed clear, he heads it clear.

In his Everton days, Duffy was encouraged by then manager Roberto Martinez to play a bit more in the Ferdinand mode.

"I remember when Martinez came in he wanted to play a lot more. He tried to change the team's style, and he did bring me along doing a lot more with the ball, and coming out with it.

"You learn from different things and then you move on.

"With Blackburn, it was more of a defensive game, while at Brighton now we have to play.

"You just learn and learn and, the more games I play, the more comfortable I feel on the ball. It's good when you have coaches who can bring your game on a lot more. I feel a lot better about it now," he adds.

As the build-up to the crunch World Cup clash with Austria continues, Duffy's credentials for a regular starting slot in Martin O'Neill's team are strengthening with his every appearance for club and country, particularly in the last year.

Duffy became Brighton's most expensive player when he signed from Blackburn Rovers for a reported £4 million fee last August.

He also played in the Republic's Euro 16 adventure, gaining a starting spot for the win against Italy in the group stages, and the match against France in the round of 16.

That game ended in double disappointment for him. Ireland lost 2-1 to the hosts, and Duffy got a red card for professional foul on Antoine Griezmann.

He missed out on Brighton's last push for promotion due to a metatarsal fracture incurred last March, but he played 34 times for the Seagulls and will start next season as a Premier League player.

In the meantime Duffy was delighted to avail of the opportunity to play against Mexico and Uruguay.

"They were two completely different games. Obviously we had a lot more experience in the team for the second game and it was at home, but the Mexican game was brilliant for us purely because a lot of players didn't play for a while," he says.

The Uruguay match gave the players a confidence boost, and Duffy is looking forward to the home supporters energising the atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

"You can thrive off the fans. Austria will know they're going to be in a tough game. They know they're not going to come here and walk over us."

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