Damien Duff: Martin O’Neill can reach hero status of Jack Charlton
Former Ireland player says the Derryman employs ugly tactics but they are effective
Damien Duff with Sarah Byrne at a Sport Against Racism Ireland event as part of FARE Football People Action Weeks. Photo: Maxwell Photography
Martin O’Neill’s tactics conflict with Damien Duff’s philosophy on the game but the Republic of Ireland legend believes the Derryman will join Jack Charlton in the small club of managerial greats should Denmark be accounted for next month.
Ireland, in the centurion’s view, have been blessed with the most desirable pairing of the four possible at Monday’s draw for the World Cup playoffs and he sees few obstacles in the way of O’Neill guiding them to Russia next year.
Having spurned the opportunity of sealing their automatic passage to a first World Cup since 2002, Duff feels the pragmatic yet one-dimensional style will be replicated during the playoff and doesn’t feel any justification for O’Neill to alter his approach at this stage in spite of calls from outside the camp.
That the output in terms of results are matching the archaic tactics integral to the glory days of the Charlton era of the late-1980s and early-1990s is reason for O’Neill’s outlook to the embraced rather than derided.
“We all laud Jack Charlton as probably the biggest football hero in this country but this would be the first time we’ve qualified for two consecutive major tournaments since 1990,” stressed Duff, who nowadays forms part of RTÉ’s panel for international games.
“I think it’s bizarre and a bit of a love-hate one. It’s not pretty to watch but maybe that’s the way Martin operates with personnel we’ve had. That’s what he’s done throughout his managerial career.
“Jack played in a similar fashion to Martin and is considered a hero in Ireland. We’ve had some of the biggest results in our football history over the last couple of years and it’s under Martin.
“I guess we are always chasing perfection and maybe we think we are better than we are. We’re all quick to criticise Martin’s style of play but it’s hard to knock him.
“He’s got us to another playoff and we’ve probably ended up with the best draw in facing Denmark. Looking at the names in the Croatian and Italians teams, we were rubbing our hands together avoiding them.”
While Danish boss Age Hareide was also relieved to avoid the two fancied sides in Monday’s draw, Duff considers it a winnable tie for Ireland.
“Denmark are not graced with an awful lot of quality,” notes the two-time Premier League winner with Chelsea.
“They obviously have Christian Eriksen, who people could argue is world-class, but I’m not sure what else they have.
“We won’t underestimate Denmark but hopefully we’re the underdogs because that’s when our best performances come. In recent years, we’ve done it against France, Italy and Wales.”
The most recent of those epic victories, last week’s win in Cardiff, was required after Ireland allowed their stranglehold of the Group D leadership slip in the second half of the campaign. Should the play-off not go to plan, then Duff thinks Ireland might well regret not topping a group which, unlike the previous tilts at reaching the World Cup, didn’t feature one of Europe’s heavyweight nations.
“I still think we messed up along the way,” he asserts at his blunt best. “Serbia won the group, yet only by a point, so I think the group was there for us to win. The chances were there to win the games at home to Austria and Wales, as well as the game in Georgia last month.”
Duff’s international career ended 14 months before O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane took up their posts and, despite initial doubts, he’s slowly overcome his fear of analysing the international team as part of his punditry brief.
The responsibilities, coupled with his coaching role at Shamrock Rovers, fill the void created by his injury-enforced retirement announced two years ago.
“I like the pressure that goes with it as punditry is the closest thing you can get to football,” he explained.
“When I first started doing it, I’d a few mates who I didn’t want to criticise them but they’ve all gone.
“Luckily too, while Ireland have enjoyed a lot of positive results, for the negative ones like drawing in Georgia last month, I wasn’t working. Whether I’m on the panel or in the pub, I’ll be cheering Ireland on in Russia if we qualify like everyone else .”
**Duff and former Ireland manager Brian Kerr were at St Killian’s national school in Kingswood, Tallaght yesterday to launch the FARE football weeks, which are co-ordinated by Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI). During FARE football weeks, SARI tour the country delivering free anti-discrimination football training workshops in primary schools.