Shane Duffy on going from the doldrums to brink of a World Cup

Huge turnaround in Derryman’s fortunes since joining Chris Hughton at Brighton

Shane Duffy's wish when he sat down to watch the draw for the World Cup qualifying playoffs was simple enough: "Don't be Italy!"

Wish granted. Not that he expects Denmark to be a doddle, but once the Italians were avoided he was happy enough to take whatever the draw produced. And his confidence is sufficiently high these days, thanks to his club form and that clean sheet in Cardiff, to convince him that bridging the Republic of Ireland’s 16-year World Cup-qualifying gap is more than doable.

Do you remember 2002?

"Yeah, I remember it well. Heartbreak on the penalties. I just want to get there. It's quite surreal to think that it's in my hands to get Ireland to a World Cup. It's crazy."

And crazy might be an apt enough description for the turnaround in the Derry man's fortunes since Chris Hughton signed him for Brighton in the summer of 2016. Until then he had been shipped out on loan by Everton to Burnley, Scunthorpe and Yeovil, before joining Blackburn. His time there ended with three own goals and a red card in his last two games. The ridicule was brutal.

Now?

“It’s day and night really,” he says. “I’ve been at the low parts and I’m just enjoying a little bit of success at the minute where everything is going well. I just have to keep going. I can’t go back to that level.

“I never questioned myself. I always thought this is football, you don’t turn into a bad player, it’s just form and everyone loses it. I just had to get my head right.

Long way

“The Brighton move helped me develop into a better player, playing in a better team. International football has brought me a long way, and I think I’m just going to get stronger, hopefully. If I look back over the last year or two, I would say I have come a long way. Hopefully in another year’s time I’ll have come another long way.”

Brighton’s 1-0 win away to Swansea on Saturday lifted them to eighth in the table when more than a few forecast that they would be anchored in the bottom three from the start to the end of the campaign. And Duffy’s performances have earned him a heap of praise.

“It’s obviously nice,” he says, “and you’ve got to enjoy it while it lasts – because you could have a stinker and then you’ll get hammered. But we’re in a nice position in the league. The team has been working well. We haven’t got too far ahead of ourselves. The manager keeps us grounded.”

Denmark, then. What result would he be happy with in Copenhagen? A draw?

“A 1-0 win! I think we have got to go there and try and score. You have got to go into every game like it’s the Wales game – you’ve got to win.

“If you go there thinking you’ve got another game you could get punished. I wouldn’t have anything to fear against anyone, really, but we’ve got to be respectful of them, they’re a good team and they can hurt you. [Christian] Eriksen is in form, unfortunately for us, but we have dealt with bigger and better players in this campaign already.

“It’s just another one to tick off. Focus on the team more than him. You’ve just got to think about the rewards, and the reward here is the World Cup, so you’ve just got to have the games of your life.”

Welcome distraction

And he wouldn’t be all that surprised if his Derry compatriot had a say in the matter. It would also be a welcome distraction from the now annual poppy business.

“It’s not nice to see someone I’m close to get that,” he says of the abuse the non-poppy-wearing James McClean is receiving from the terraces, this being November. “But it is what it is, don’t get me in f***ing trouble.

“I just thought like…just wear it for respect for the country. No one talks to you if you wear it, just get on with it. But James has got his strong beliefs – and if you believe that much you shouldn’t be forced to wear it. That’s the kind of character James is, he is what he is. He believes what he believes in, he’s stuck to his word and for all the criticism he gets it probably makes him stronger.”

Poppies, you suspect, will be far from either Derryman’s mind over the next seven days.

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