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fighting back Shane Duffy rising again after a year from hell that left his career in turmoil

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Brighton and Ireland's Shane Duffy celebrates after his side's victory over Watford in the Premier League. Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Brighton and Ireland's Shane Duffy celebrates after his side's victory over Watford in the Premier League. Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Brighton and Ireland's Shane Duffy celebrates after his side's victory over Watford in the Premier League. Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images

MODERN sporting verdicts tend to be delivered with brutal haste. Shane Duffy fell foul of that rule over the last year.

The road from being a Premier League star and leader of the Republic of Ireland team to getting cast as the symbol of Celtic’s demise was navigated with alarming speed by Duffy, yet peel under the surface of this story and you appreciate this was a tragedy well beyond sport.

Following the death of his 53-year-old father Brian in the summer of 2020, Duffy struggled to steady himself during a loan spell in Glasgow that started badly, and only got worse.

It wasn’t just his desperate dip in form on the field that left Duffy pondering whether his career had taken a turn towards oblivion, as he admits he was not in the right mental state to be playing sport at the highest level during his agonising time in Scotland.

Unforgiving Celtic fans may not have been in any mood to consider the case for Duffy’s defence. Their pain was too acute to take after Rangers ended their dreams of a 10th successive Scottish Premiership title last May.

Talisman

The version of Duffy wearing the green and white hoops did not resemble the one who had become a talisman with Brighton and Ireland at the top end of the game.

Instead, a hollowed-out and broken version was on display in Scotland, with his mistakes on the field complementing some bad choices off it.

Duffy admitted he hit “rock bottom” before he launched his comeback, on and off the field. The instant results as thrilling as his fall from grace was chilling.

Initially deemed to be surplus to requirements by Brighton boss Graham Potter, who sanctioned the move to Celtic last year, Duffy’s hopes of getting back into the Brighton team looked forlorn after his miserable experience at Celtic.

That was before the £50 million sale of Ben White to Arsenal created a vacancy at the heart of the Brighton defence, with Duffy stepping forward majestically to take it.

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The 29-year-old lined out for his 97th Premier League game for Brighton against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Monday night.

The traumas he has been through in the last year fuel his relief that he is through the other side of his anguish now.

“When you hit rock bottom, you realise that a lot was going wrong off the field and I had to mentally go through that, which was tough,” said Duffy in an interview with Sky Sports.

“You have got to change something, so I decided to let some people go who weren’t the best for me at the moment.

“Now I have surrounded myself with good people and made better decisions off the pitch.

“I am still taking it day by day and be like an 18-year-old trying to impress every day, try and improve and try and help as much as I can. I feel like if you do that you get the reward sometimes when maybe you don’t expect it.

Brilliant

“Brighton were brilliant even when they knew I was having a difficult spell both on and off the pitch at Celtic. They were always in contact with me and seeing how I was.

“With my character, I am never going to give up and, until I’m told otherwise, I am going to keep fighting until the last day.”

They were honest words from a player who boasts battling qualities that were highlighted on the dark day in May 2010, when he damaged his liver while playing for an Ireland development squad.

The huge scar etched into his flesh from that incident is a war wound reminding him how hard he’s fought to reach the pinnacle of the game.

Now it seems he will be given a second life at Brighton.

It was the exit of Chris Hughton as Seagulls boss and the arrival of Potter as his replacement in the summer of 2019 that appeared to signal the beginning of the end of Duffy’s time at the club.

The new manager’s remit was to produce a brand of football that relied on ball-playing centre-backs.

Convinced

Many have questioned if Duffy has the technical skills to thrive in the role for club and country, but Potter appears to have been convinced he can fit into a defensive trio that includes his long-time partner Lewis Dunk.

“Shane gets bad press when I read he can’t play in a back three,” says Potter of Duffy, who has been central to Brighton’s impressive start to the season that has seen them win four of their first five matches.

“What he has shown for us this season is that he brings special qualities to the side and not just in the way he plays. He is a leader and people thrive around him.

“Since he has come back from a frustrating, disappointing and sad time for him up in Scotland, he has realised how much he means to us here, and vice versa.

“He knows he’s in a good place, with good people around him who want to help him and he’s taken massive steps.

“With Shane and his attributes, it makes him unique almost in terms of what he can bring to the team and it’s great to have him around.”

Amid an alarmingly dwindling number of Irishmen playing regular Premier League football, Duffy’s revival is a welcome sight, yet this success story is about so much more than a sporting tragedy being reversed.

Of more importance must be the sight of a smiling footballer who is banishing his demons and pulling himself out of the hole he was in for much of the last year.

It’s great to have the real Shane Duffy back.

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