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Helping players on and dealing with 'sh*t' - Damien Duff on life as a rookie manager

Damien Duff begins his debut season as Shelbourne manager against St Pat's tomorrow night. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Damien Duff begins his debut season as Shelbourne manager against St Pat's tomorrow night. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Daniel McDonnell

In a makeshift press conference setting in a bar underneath the stand in Tolka Park, Damien Duff is recalling some advice given to him by Brendan Rodgers during his time at Celtic.

“He said to me ‘In management, you’re always knee deep in sh** and some days it goes up to your waist, just make sure it doesn’t go to your neck.’ I can see that. A lot of people rely on you. Everyone’s problem is my problem.

“When did I take the job?” he asks. “November. I haven’t had one day where it’s been a clear easy ride. Always been some sh** to deal with. More often than not, more than one piece of sh**.”

There’s a danger in reading those words and concluding that Duff isn’t enjoying the grind when the reality is that his coaching journey appears to be tied in with a desire for hardship, a challenge to push himself out of his comfort zone.

He’s put his players through an intense pre-season including a day with the army and suggests that together they are overcoming financial constraints to create something special.

Yet his part of the bargain is to push himself to the limits and go the extra mile for squad members who have put other aspects of their lives on hold. Which brings us to the housing crisis.

“I tell them all that I’m there for them 24/7, so I’m helping lads on and getting them property. Actively trying to get lads jobs just to up their wage because it’s not enough here. I’d like to think that I’ve given them everything in every department. Driving lads to scans, f**king anything and everything. It’s been a real eye opener,” he says.

“The quality of side we’ve built, it’s an amazing bunch already. What they have done already is something that’s never been done before in Ireland. What I mean by that is they have created, the players have, a full-time, elite environment on a part-time budget. You might correct me, but I don’t think it has been done before.

“It’s a part-time budget we work off and they, the sacrifices they have made, training in the morning, giving up jobs, they have created a full-time environment, so they are a special group.”

What about then?

“I’m not very good at navigating the system,” he replies, “On a serious note, you can see why people are struggling to get properties. I must have emailed 50 places and nobody replies so you can see the housing crisis. It’s there, I’ve seen it first hand. I’m very lucky that I live in a house eight to ten years but trying to get a place is f**king impossible.”

He expands to assert that an element of the bond he has built up with his squad was drawn from their approach to contract negotiations.

The 42-year-old learned a lot about the vagaries of recruitment in the winter months and while he was never of the opinion that his reputation would get every deal over the line, the nature of certain interactions was illuminating.

“I don’t think it (profile) was a bonus whatsoever. A few people said no, turned me down, turned Shels down, whatever you want to call it.

“I guess you learn from that. If you don’t get an answer within a day you should really know. Everyone within that dressing room now more or less told me straight away I want to come and play for you, for the staff, Shelbourne Football Club, taste the experience. And that’s why they are a special group already, because of the hunger they have.

“I guess I know for future windows that if it’s dragging on it’s because they’re playing you a bit. The likes of Mark Coyle (a signing from Finn Harps), holy God giving up a brilliant job and two decent wages up in Donegal to come down here for one wage. It’s an incredible sacrifice and there’s a lot more like him.

“Mark is on a loser financially, that’s why he has such a special mentality, but I could namecheck an awful lot more.

“I’d always get a good sense of a person from meeting them. I’d like to think I’m a very good judge of character. I guess it just mirrors the way I was as a person and I was as a player – I just wanted energy, enthusiasm and hard work.

“You can talk about what maybe my qualities were as a player but I think they were near my main ones. That’s what I want out of the squad and I think I have. Of course I want quality and I think I got quality.”

Tolka Park has undergone some refurbishment over the winter to accommodate the increased demand brought about by Duff’s appointment and tomorrow’s visit of St Patrick’s Athletic will be a 4,100 sellout.

Duff is on board with the campaign to save the stadium, with his feelings ironically tied in with his underage experiences under Brian Kerr, a man who will be craving an away win in the season opener. The home boss is all-in on Shels now, admitting that his declaration that the club is a giant and not a sleeping giant is all about sending a message to his squad.

“When I was over in England, Shels to me were the big club and my memories of Tolka are Brian Kerr which has a special place in my heart. I’ve put pressure on the players because there’s a lot of eyes of them but it’s a good pressure.”

It’s what he signed up for.

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