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duff at top Three jobs, three exits and a lot of unanswered questions - what is going on with Damien's coaching career?


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Damien Duff has previously ruled out management in Ireland, but he has changed his mind before. He once said ‘not one per cent of him had an urge to go and work with the FAI’ before years later joining Stephen Kenny’s Ireland backroom team. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Damien Duff has previously ruled out management in Ireland, but he has changed his mind before. He once said ‘not one per cent of him had an urge to go and work with the FAI’ before years later joining Stephen Kenny’s Ireland backroom team. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Damien Duff has previously ruled out management in Ireland, but he has changed his mind before. He once said ‘not one per cent of him had an urge to go and work with the FAI’ before years later joining Stephen Kenny’s Ireland backroom team. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Not even Damien Duff knows what Damien Duff is going to do next. The man who once said he would never work as a paid analyst on TV and once joked "shoot me if I ever become a pundit" then found himself at home in the TV studio. The pundit who said loyalty to the Irish team and former team-mates meant he could not do TV work on a Republic of Ireland game went on to do so.

The man who claimed "not even one per cent of me" would ever work with the FAI became an FAI employee. The man who said last year "hopefully the FAI will be stuck with me for a while" lasted for nine months of a two-year contract.

So trying to predict his next move, a week after Duff severed his ties with the FAI, is no easy task, just as trying to figure out all of the reasons for his exit from that post is complicated.

The 41-year-old does have things to work on right now: while his time with the Ireland senior team has ended, he's still coach of the Shelbourne U-17 side, though no one knows when that team will take to the field again due to the lingering and malevolent presence of Covid-19. Despite lockdown and a lack of games, Duff remains committed to the post and is in regular contact with his staff and players at Shels.

Puzzled

His exit from that Ireland role last week came as a surprise to some, not others. What puzzled everyone was the timing (nine weeks after the last international and 11 weeks before the next one).

Cynics would say he had form, that Duffer is a walker: he left the Shamrock Rovers U-15 role, opted to leave Celtic last year, and has now quit the FAI. Three jobs, three exits.

Duff would explain two: he departed Rovers, after committing two years, to take up a role with Celtic, the lure of Parkhead an offer few would reject. Many Irish players have a deep-rooted affection for Celtic and in an interview last summer, Duff stated his disappointment that he never got to play for the club, revealing that he had proactively offered his services to the Scottish club when he was leaving Newcastle in 2009.

"I went (to Fulham) for £2.5 million and played in the Premier League for five years, Celtic would have got a bargain," he rued.

At Celtic, he did so well in an academy role that he was promoted to the senior team, played a role in a treble success, and was wanted by the Scottish club, but those close to Duff feel the pull of home was too strong.

"Damien's a home bird," says one source close to the player. "He could have stayed at Celtic, maybe become the next manager as they love him there. But he wanted his kids to grow up in Ireland, with Irish accents. He just loves being at home."

The reasons for last week's resignation are murkier. Duff's anger at how the FAI reacted to the 'Videogate' story and his insistence that Kenny had nothing to apologise for with the Wembley video, a disagreement with goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly over the matter, Duff's long-standing dislike and distrust of the FAI, and how the FAI handled the season finale for his Shels U-17 side were all factors.

But those close to Duff also maintain that, despite his respect for Kenny, there was frustration at aspects of the senior set-up. The Ireland coaching team had Kenny at the top, Keith Andrews as his closest confidant but others, including Duff and Kelly, were kept at a relative distance and those familiar with the set-up maintain that Duff would have had more input into selection at Celtic than with Ireland.

"There's no one single reason why Damien's no longer with Ireland," says a source who has known Duff for two decades. "If something's not right with Damien, it will eat away at him.

"We all know how he feels about the FAI and that may never change. But that Ireland team last year didn't look like a Damien Duff team to me, didn't have the freedom for the front players you'd expect if Damien had his own way. He will feel he was right to walk now and the video saga, and what went on in the FAI, did annoy him, but the timing is so strange."

Another associate says: "It was the location of the job, being able to work in Ireland again, which would have been more attractive than the job itself."

* * * * *

Many were taken aback when Duff joined Kenny's coaching team last April, not just because Duff and Kenny had no previous links but because of Duff's attitude towards the FAI, a long-standing feeling which raged between frustration, disdain and anger, backed by a stern loyalty to the national team.

Duff was known to be put out at how Brian Kerr was treated when his time as manager ended in 2005 and while Duff always had a loyalty to any Ireland manager, the blazers, the men who hired and fired those managers, had no place in his heart.

He made light of how the occasion of his 100th cap was marked but the matter also summed up, for Duff, a lot about the FAI, as after a chance meeting with John Delaney in a London airport, he was handed his ceremonial 100th cap over a pint of shandy "in a Wetherspoons in Heathrow", Duff recalled.

Never one to seek the limelight, he didn't get too caught up in the incident, and he had rejected an offer to be presented with the cap on the pitch at Wembley during a 2013 friendly with England. But those around him felt it was an ill-fitting way to end a proud Ireland career.

He would be back with the FAI, albeit at a distance, in 2016 when he was included in an initial list of five former internationals (there would be more) who came on board with the Ireland underage teams to assist as mentors.

Many of those ex-players recruited for that role were deeply frustrated, as their role was not only an undefined one - they were not managing the teams - but was also unpaid and some would, in time, feel they were being used by the Delaney-era FAI to add a very cheap coat of gloss to the FAI's coaching staff, getting top-level expertise not just on the cheap but for free.

It was also felt that getting them into the FAI tent would prevent them from being critical of the association. But Duff would not be muzzled.

Before the Euro 2016 finals, he brought up the exclusion of his former mentor, saying Kerr's 11-year exile from Irish football was "a disgrace" at a time when few players publicly went against the FAI's pig-headed attitude towards Kerr.

It was also around this time, and with his role as manager of the Rovers' U-15s, that Duff began to encounter Ruud Dokter, a relationship which was never warm and would, in time, contribute to last week's exit.

Duff and Dokter have clashed many times, including one incident when Duff is said to have hung up while on a group conference call with the Dutchman. Hence the surprise when Kenny included Duff on his coaching staff last year.

"I never had an urge to go and work with the FAI, not even one per cent of me. That's because of things gone on in the past that everyone knows about. There's not many trustworthy football people in Ireland if I'm brutally honest. His (Kenny's) passion, his vision, his plan just excited me," Duff said at the time.

* * * * *

Now, he's off that Kenny-led ticket. Duff's absence from the managerial merry-go-round is not unique, a sign of the modern game.

Once, getting into management was easier. Of the first Ireland squad to compete at the World Cup finals, in 1990, 10 of the 22-man panel became managers and five more had coaching roles at a high level; only seven stayed away from the dugout.

The 2002 World Cup squad, of which Duff was a member, stands in stark contrast: of the 23 named in that squad (including non-participant Roy Keane), not one is currently employed as a manager and just five are involved in coaching at adult level, as most landed up working in the media, doing agency work or else in business.

So what's next for Duff? He's financially secure and does not need to work again: at Rovers he donated his wages to charity while he's known to pay for extras for his Shels U-17 side out of his own pocket, Duff with a fierce loyalty to those players.

If he was in need of work, his profile as a two-time Premier League winner would make him popular in the media field anywhere in the world, though home bird Duff would probably be horrified at the idea of a long stint on Malaysian TV to commentate on Crystal Palace v Wolves.

Occasional work on RTÉ TV, the studio close to his Wicklow home, suits him.

Manage

"Damien now needs to go off and manage in his own right," says one figure who is close to Duff. "He's worked at Rovers, at Celtic, at Ireland but he was not the one calling the shots and he needs to do that.

"Management would suit him so he should take a job here, in the League of Ireland, go and do that, manage a team for two years and establish himself. He's a brilliant coach, people who were on his Pro-Licence raved about him, the Ireland players loved him, he was great with the Rovers kids and he's said to be the same at Shels now."

Duff has previously ruled out management in Ireland.

"I don't think I would manage in the top senior level here, it doesn't interest me," he said in 2018, while at Rovers.

"Nothing would make me happier than to see one of the boys go on to have a career rather than managing a first team here. If I was to manage at senior level I would go away."

Duff's changed his mind before so can do it again.

He has been lost by the Ireland national team but he remains too strong a force to be lost to the Irish game.

Over and out for Duff ...

SHAMROCK ROVERS

(February 2017-January 2019)

Duff had been on the first-team staff at Rovers, after a spell as a player there, but took up the post of U-15 manager ahead of the 2017 season. Fiercely loyal to his players, Duff's approach, including 6am training sessions, raised eyebrows but he was adamant it was needed to raise standards. "People are telling kids to train less and I want them to train twice as much. One of us is wrong and it's not me," he would say.

CELTIC

(January 2019-April 2020)

Initially appointed U-20 coach by Brendan Rodgers, Duff was quickly moved up the coaching ladder and was a key member of the first-team staff under Neil Lennon, helping the side to a treble. Highly regarded at Parkhead and mentioned as a future manager, he left his Celtic post to take up the job with the FAI.

IRELAND

(April 2020-January 2021)

First linked with an Ireland role when Mick McCarthy succeeded Martin O'Neill in 2018, Duff was then a surprise addition to Stephen Kenny's coaching staff. Duff was behind Kenny and Keith Andrews in the pecking order but players spoke in awe of Duff's impact. Duff defended Kenny, and backed him over the 'Videogate' issue, on RTÉ later but decided to leave his post last week and, bar a 39-word statement issued by the FAI, has not elaborated on his reasons.

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