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Damien Duff: ‘A player with experience and quality costs €1,200 a week - I ain’t got that’

Shelbourne manager plots new season without the anticipated fresh investment in Drumcondra club

Damien Duff made a low key entry and exit from City Hall, the location of Wednesday’s League of Ireland launch. Not a bland utterance to be found in his wake.

Shelbourne under their sophomore manager do not possess a strong enough squad to qualify for European football. Same as last year when the Drumcondra club appeared to lack sufficient talent to reach the FAI Cup final.

Granted, that fairytale ended with Derry City handing them a 4-0 trimming at the Aviva stadium last November, and since Shels have struggled to match salary demands ahead of the new League of Ireland campaign. Certainly when compared to Shamrock Rovers and Derry City,

“Usually at 27, 28, 29-years-old, a player with a lot of experience in the league, that has a bit of quality costs €1,200 a week - I ain’t got that,” said Duff at the Airtricity sponsored league launch. “I might be able to get one or two or three of them but a lot of the teams above us can keep forking out and I can’t.


“So, [I have] your 20, 21-year-olds. I want loads of kids in, they don’t answer back. The reason I got Paddy [Barrett] is he’s a personality and a presence, something we have lacked before.

“Your title-winners with medals and experience cost too much money. At the same time, young kids can prove they are exciting and hopefully one day they will be 26, 27 and commanding these wages and plenty of medals under their belt.”

‘One day’ for Shels was supposed to happen in 2023. Reported investment from Southampton owners Sport Republic failed to materialise during the January transfer window. This now appears dependent on The Saints avoiding relegation to the Championship, a scenario that looks odds-on as Gavin Bazunu’s team sit bottom of the Premier League after 21 matches.

“If the investment came in I probably would have been able to quadruple my budget,” Duff conceded. “It didn’t, so I have no issue. I am really happy with the squad I have.

“Listen, I think the club is in talks with many people to get to the next level. It’s not rocket science, you look at Derry, you look at Pats, you look at Rovers, any big player becomes available they are in straight away.

“Have I gone and chatted to these players? Yeah. Did they want to come to us? Yeah. But when money is spoken, I tap out.”

For now, Duff is selling a dream. He offers possession-based football fuelled by a tireless work ethic that was evident for all to see in 2022.

“The top two, top three probably have quadruple our budget but that doesn’t faze me whatsoever.

“What I stand over and what gives me most hope is, of the 10 teams last year who made the biggest improvement over the course of 36 games and five cup games, without doubt, I think it was us from game one to game 36.

“What I hope for is a squad of players that improves no end over the year, and that’s what I rely on for our success, not paying a lot of money for them.”

Because a lot of money does not currently exist, which forces Duff to invest in established characters like Luke Byrne, Jack Moylan and Sean Boyd to deliver when Drogheda United visit Tolka Park for the season opener on February 17th.

“On paper, budget-wise, do we have a right to be talking about [European football]? No. Did we have a right to be talking about cup finals? No. But we have spoken about Europe and cup finals because there is no point doing it otherwise.”

The 43-year-old did not winter well.

“I need to be busy, I need a 24-seven focus in my life, that’s why I got involved in coaching and management, that‘s why I got involved in the league, it’s good for me. It’s a catch 22, I was probably on death’s door at the end of the season, I worked myself to the bone, but when the season finishes you don’t know what to do with yourself.”

It is suggested that management has altered his destiny.

“You can do anything in life. This is something I thought I wouldn’t do, I wouldn’t be up to it, but I have done it, I have grown as a person on and off the pitch, I’d like to think, and it’s out of your comfort zone. A lot of people in life go motoring along but I did something I was scared of, and I am grateful for it.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent