Duff going out on a wing and a prayer
As he gets ready to lead out Ireland for his 100th cap, Damien Duff is hinting that tonight could be his last game for his country, writes EMMET MALONEin Poznan
WHEN DAMIEN Duff is dragged in to face the press “kicking and screaming”, as he says he was in Poznan yesterday, you generally know that something significant is afoot. This time around, it could scarcely have been any bigger with the 33-year-old Dubliner set to make his 100th appearance for Ireland this evening.
As he opened the proceedings, though, Giovanni Trapattoni quickly revealed that to mark the occasion Duff will, with Robbie Keane’s blessing, captain the team, and moments later the player himself hinted pretty strongly that tonight might also mark his last appearance in an Ireland shirt.
“I think I’ve made up my mind,” Duff replied when asked if he knew whether he would be sticking around after this tournament, “but now is not the time to say.”
He subsequently said that he envisaged playing on for a few more years but this was in reply to a question that cited the example of players who gave up international football in order to extend club careers. There was a clear sense that, at least right now, Duff is considering doing something along the same lines.
If he does go then his departure will add to the sense of sadness with which Ireland’s misadventure at these European Championships will be remembered. The myth of Ireland as unconquerable underdog has been well and truly blown apart over the last week or so and the loss of one of the side’s most universally popular figures would only compound the misery of those who relished the prospect of Ireland’s return to one of the game’s great stages with such a keen sense of anticipation.
The ones who travelled have, of course, felt especially deflated, but his captaincy and achievement of a century of caps will give Irish supporters inside the Municipal Stadium some much needed cause to celebrate on a night when Trapattoni’s players will not be attempting to qualify for the next round but rather to restore a severely battered collective reputation.
In a team that has been well beaten twice, Duff has struggled to make a positive impact like the rest of them, and yet his own reputation has been secure for some time. The former Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea winger was, at his height, the greatest Irish player of this generation and continues to endear for his unquestionable commitment to a cause he has served at senior level for just over 14 year now.
His remarkable energy and determined application have long made him a key foundation upon which the team and the optimism of those watching it were constructed. For years, his pace and close control, assets that have been in terribly short supply to a succession of managers before Trapattoni, were entirely central to Ireland’s ability to unlock lesser opponents and pose some sort of meaningful attacking threat against the better ones.
If he has had a particular failing it is, as the current coach has observed more than once with regard to both his wingers, that he does not score enough himself, but his capacity to create for others has always been of absolutely critical importance.