Player of the Year award another major milestone for Duffy
Within two years the Brighton centre-back has made a huge impact for the Republic
Shane Duffy scores the Republic of Ireland’s early goal in the World Cup playoff against Denmark. “For the first 10 minutes I thought I was a hero and then I was a villain, all of us were.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
As the sun shines down on the training ground in Belek where he and his team -mates are going through their paces this week, the snow that prevented him making it to RTÉ on Sunday night seems a distant memory but Shane Duffy is still savouring his Ireland Player of the Year success.
James McClean, he says, would have had his vote and he jokes that his fellow Derryman is a little put out not to have got the honour but Duffy can hold his head up high. Those last 15 minutes in Cardiff alone merited some enduring recognition.
It was hard to believe that night that he was barely a year in the team on a regular basis. It is still less than two now and yet his status is slightly transformed by the long list of absentees on this trip with just five of the players who featured in his competitive debut against Italy are around this week.
Some of their replacements are familiar faces from his days in the under-21s but his status as a regular starter both for his club and country highlight the particular progress that he has made.
“I’m still quite new,” he says. “I’ve been here for two years but that’s not that long and how it’s changed in those two years is mad. To be one of the older ones, the more experienced ones, is a bit weird.
“It’s still the same every time I come in, though; still great and I love it. I know most of the lads anyway from playing with them growing up so it’s probably easier now than it was two years ago when I didn’t know them. I feel comfortable.”
He looks comfortable too with the games he has played for Brighton helping to grow into the outsized boots he must fill as an international player when away with Ireland. Chris Hughton has shown an awful lot of belief in him but the 26-year-old has worked hard to repay his manager.
He does have the odd moment when it is apparent his education is still ongoing but he is largely unrecognisable as the young defender who says he struggled just to get through his debut for Everton way back in 2009.
“You get better naturally,” he says. “It’s down to playing more games. I went down to the lower leagues and learnt my trade. When I played at Everton the first time I was purely raw, I’d just come out of Derry. I was shaking when I was playing, you don’t even want the ball.
“Now, I’m just calm, I feel like I belong there. Chris has given me the chance to play in the Premier League where I’m developing and Martin has given me the chance to play on the big stages and in a big tournament. You take little things out of each one of them and it’s all coming together a bit now and hopefully there is more to come. I’m still a bit raw in some things I do but I’m getting better.”
His appetite for learning from every experience, good or bad, is, he insists, key and he is determined that games like the one against Denmark will ultimately stand to him, and Ireland.
“For the first 10 minutes I thought I was a hero and then I was a villain, all of us were,” he recalls. “But those are the games you look back on and think: ‘That will make me a better player, I’ll know how to deal with that next time.
“You take little moments and try to make sure things like that don’t happen again. It’s one of them lows you have in football, and I’ve had a few, such as the France game. But you come back from it. Denmark was a low and I’ve come back.”
It took a little while, he admits.
“I went back to Brighton and my form and the results weren’t great for a spell; people were questioning whether I was over it or not. It was a tough night, it still is. Even now, talking about it with the lads. Then you’re watching other teams getting their new kits for the World Cup and things like that, while we’re playing friendlies.”
And yet things are still looking pretty good for the big centre-back with Hughton describing him as “a credit to the game” in the wake of his award win the other night and the club, who have wobbled at times, not far off making sure of their place in the top flight for next season.
“He is unbelievable,” says Duffy in return.
“He is just getting better and better. He is getting a lot more respect in the game now for what he is doing and he fully deserves it. He has got Brighton to where they are now in a matter of three years. We are 12th in the Premier League so everything he gets he deserves.”
The same could be said of Duffy although both he and, it seems, James McClean might still take a bit of persuading.