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comeback king Shane Duffy on how he bounced back from rock bottom to revive his career

Now on form with club and country, Shane Duffy admits he had feared for his career


Shane Duffy

Shane Duffy

Shane Duffy

Unwanted by not one but two clubs, and also dropped by the national team, Shane Duffy’s career was beyond the freefall stage and was headed for a very dark place.

Now back at the heart of things with a club side riding high in the Premier League and an Ireland XI which earned its biggest competitive away win in six years, Duffy is all smiles as the Derry man can reach that magic 50-cap mark before the end of the year.

But Duffy admits that he had real fears for his career with club and country, and needed a stern talking to, with himself, to sort himself out, get out of his slump and revive what was looking like a moribund career.

“I’d say to anyone to never give up as you never know what is around the corner,” says Duffy.

Speaking just after he helped an Ireland defence deliver on their end, a clean sheet, in that 3-0 win in Baku, Duffy was forthright about where he is now and where he was a year ago. Loaned out by Brighton, he had a torrid time at Celtic, was dropped and sent back to Brighton before his loan spell was due to end.

His confidence, damaged by Graham Potter’s call to loan him out, was further shredded in a car crash of a season at Parkhead, and when it came to the start of the World Cup qualifiers in March, Duffy was dropped by Stephen Kenny.

Not humiliation but a case of taking a broken man out of the firing line, he reckons.

“It was the right decision because I was nowhere near the level that I can show. A blind man could have seen that I was nowhere near where I had been at. I had a tough time in life, on the pitch and off the pitch,” says Duffy.

“He [Kenny] still brought me into the squad to be around the lads to help if I could even if I was not playing. I accepted that. You have to play well to play for your country so that was the right decision.

“I went away in the summer and got my head down, hit the reset button and went from there. I said that I’d give it one big chance again. I’m getting to the age where it’s the later end of my career, so I wanted to give it a big crack and see where it took me.

“I had no expectation where I was going to be at club level but I knew that I still had it in me.

“So I’m taking it day by day, by one step and that is where I am at the minute. I’m enjoying playing football, I’m loving it.”

He was at a crossroads. “It’s difficult to say if it was my last chance. I had to sit down and have a word with myself or else it was going to fade away,” Duffy admits.

“In football, there are so many players that if you are not at it you get left behind. I had that feeling where I was not playing at club level, I was not playing at international level. You just get young players coming through and better players coming through and you just get moved on.

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“So I said to myself, ‘Listen, you have just got to put your head down and show that I can still have a worth to this team especially and at club level. That is what I’ve done so hopefully I can repay the managers for picking me.”

His importance to Ireland – he’s a goal threat apart from any defensive duties – meant that Kenny was likely to recall Duffy at some stage, but the door at Brighton looked to be welded shut. Once a manager loans out a player, as he did with Duffy, it’s the romantic equivalent of taking a break from a marriage that’s beyond repair. Divorce is inevitable. The sale of Ben White to Arsenal did open a door for Duffy but he did not expect to get back in.

“No, if I’m being honest I didn’t think that I could. But the character that I am, I never say never,” he says. “Unless someone throws me out the door then I’ll never give up. That is the kind of person I am. I was lucky that I still have the years, I was still in the building so I had a chance to prove to the manager that I had changed and that I was working hard for him and that I would do anything that he wanted me to do.

“I got a bit of luck with [other players contracting] Covid and a few injuries during pre-season.

“You need that in football. I took my chance from there and obviously I have started the season really well.”

He took that good club form this season into the Ireland side, and denying Azerbaijan a goal in Baku with a win built on a clean sheet bodes well for the Derry native for the tests to come, especially Portugal’s visit to Dublin next month.

“Everyone knows what happened in Portugal and if we can put on a performance like that in front of a full house at the Aviva . . . why not?” he asks.

“We have a tough game coming up against Qatar tomorrow and it’s all about momentum. As players, I know this from club level, wins breed confidence and you build from that. We’ve lost one in seven – I know we’re not winning – but it’s momentum.

“Hopefully we’ll bounce into Tuesday’s game and who knows what can happen after that. Portugal will be a tough game.

“But winning games breeds confidence. This squad has been together for 18 months, well the core of it is, and we’re all getting used to it and the way we’re playing. I can see signs from when the manager first came in till now the massive progression. If you look at the results, it will be a lot easier for people.

“We spoke and wanted to get a clean sheet. It’s important, especially for Gavin [Bazunu], for myself too,” he says. “It’s important for defenders to come away because sometimes we don’t get the credit we deserve from performances. To go away in a World Cup qualifier and get a clean sheet, it was something we were determined to get in the end.

“They came late on and Gavin made some great saves. Defenders and goalkeepers pride themselves on clean sheets and we conceded against Serbia from a set-piece. That hurt us because we pride ourselves on not conceding from set-pieces. We wanted to bounce back by keeping a clean sheet and we fully deserved it.

“I think everyone with eyes can see the progression we’re making. I know the results aren’t there but you can see we’re trying to play the right football and we’re getting there. I’m delighted for him first and foremost because of the work he puts in behind the scenes and what he’s trying to get across, especially with the backroom staff as well.

“At the end of the day it’s up to us as players to go out and get results and we haven’t been doing that. We can see progression in the team and it’s a result for him [Kenny]. Any result away from home is tough and I know that.

"I’m delighted for him and hopefully we can push on from now and into Tuesday.”

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