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'There were low days... You're thinking: "Are you good enough?"'

Journal.ie logo Journal.ie 11/10/2018 Paul Fennessy
a man looking at the camera: Shane Duffy pictured at an Ireland press conference. © Bryan Keane INPHO Shane Duffy pictured at an Ireland press conference.

- Paul Fennessy reports from the Aviva Stadium

SHANE DUFFY IS that rare thing — an Irish player who has been excelling at Premier League level for some time now.

The Derry native was a fundamental part of the Brighton side that finished 15th in the English top flight last season, playing in all bar one of the league games, and drawing plenty of praise for his performances.

He has continued in a similar vein this season, with the club currently 13th in the league.

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The 26-year-old centre-back was rewarded for his progress last week, amid confirmation that he had committed to a new long-term contract with the Seagulls.

Yet while he is in the best form of his career at the moment, Duffy has had to be patient at times over the past few years.

There have been some setbacks along the way, not to mention the near-death experience owing to a freak accident suffered during an Ireland training camp when he was just 18.

Having spent time on loan at clubs such as Yeovil and Scunthorpe only a few years ago, there were times when, for Duffy, international football seemed a distant prospect.

Being let leave by Everton and dropping down a division was another blow, but he responded well, impressing in the Championship with Blackburn before earning a £4 million move to Brighton — a deal which looks like a significant bargain now.

You just have to have that mentality of not giving up,” he says. “I had a hard time in my career, where I was wondering where it was going. I didn’t know where I was going. Luckily enough, I signed for a club [Brighton] where they believed in me and gave me a chance to play at the top level. There’s not a better place to do that and that’s a key thing in signing a new contract. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at the minute.

“There were low days, like on Saturdays, you’re thinking: ‘Are you good enough?’ You question yourself. But you get yourself around good people. You work hard. Every day you work hard, the best you can be and thankfully it gave me a pathway that gave me a chance [to play regularly]. I’m delighted with that and just trying to keep going, trying to improve.”

Under Martin O’Neill, one of the strongest aspects of the Irish team has generally been the defence — the Boys in Green conceded just six goals in 10 games during the group stages of World Cup qualifying.

And since making his competitive debut in the memorable 1-0 win over Italy at Euro 2016, Duffy has established himself as a key player for Martin O’Neill’s side. He is one of a handful of individuals in the current squad who can more or less be considered guaranteed starters if fit.

However, that mean defensive streak that Ireland were previously renowned for has been conspicuous by its absence in the side’s last two competitive games against Denmark and Wales, with nine goals conceded, and the former fixture surpassing the previous heaviest competitive defeat of the O’Neill era (the 3-0 loss to Belgium at Euro 2016).

Shane Duffy with supporters following a Republic of Ireland training session at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. © Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images Shane Duffy with supporters following a Republic of Ireland training session at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Duffy admits the displays from the backline have not been good enough of late, but he is keen rectify that problem in these upcoming games.

“We have always had quite a strong record over the two campaigns, defensively, but in the last two big games we have let a lot in,” Duffy says. “So maybe it is about getting back to basics and doing what we’re good at, rather than doing something we’re not really used to.

“We have to go back, believe and trust the lads, and hopefully we will get back to keeping clean sheets.”

After a four-man defence struggled in the comprehensive defeat to Wales, there has been talk of reverting to three at the back, a system that O’Neill has experimented with in the past, while the manager hinted on Tuesday that he was considering doing so again.

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As a footballer, you get used to different formations, and especially that one [the back three] is getting a lot more use across football now,” Duffy adds. “It’s about adapting to it. We don’t play it every Saturday with Brighton, so it’s about coming in here and working on it.

“At the end of the day, you want to go out there and play. It’s about what’s best for the team and if that’s the right formation to play at the weekend, that’s the manager’s choice.”

He admits, though, that such a transition takes considerable effort on his part.

“It’s quite difficult. When I play in the middle, sometimes I can feel I can get lost too deep from the rest of the lads. And then playing on the side if it’s on the right-hand side it is like playing as a full-back sometimes.”

Cyrus Christie, left, and Shane Duffy of Republic of Ireland after the UEFA Nations League match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. © Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images Cyrus Christie, left, and Shane Duffy of Republic of Ireland after the UEFA Nations League match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

Duffy is also eager to exorcise the ghosts of the last time Ireland met Denmark at the Aviva Stadium, which ended with a humbling 5-1 defeat for the hosts. A win on Saturday certainly won’t make up for the heartbreak of missing out on the 2018 World Cup owing to that loss, but it would at least result in a much-needed morale boost on the back of two emphatic defeats. 

“If we keep dwelling on [the 5-1 Denmark defeat], it will keep on bringing back the bad memories. This is a fresh game, and we’re excited to go out and play against them again back here in front of our fans. Hopefully we can put it right. That night will never leave my head, it was a dark night for me, but hopefully we can have a good night on Saturday.”

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