All hands on deck for Damien Duff at Shelbourne

Life as manager for the former Ireland international goes way beyond what happens on the pitch

During their time together in paradise, Brendan Rogers offered Damien Duff advice eerily similar to what Michael Gambon imparted to Daniel Craig in the 2004 gangster flick Layer Cake.

"Everyone's problem is my problem," said Duff, the rookie Shelbourne manager on the eve of a new season. "Since I took the job in early November I haven't had one day where it has been a clear, easy ride. Every day there is some shit to deal with. More often than not, more than one piece of shit.

"I remember Brendan saying to me at Celtic: 'In management, you are always knee deep in shit. Some days it goes up to your waist, make sure it doesn't get up to your neck.'

“I can totally see that. I am not comparing Shelbourne to Celtic, I am just talking about management where a lot of people rely on you.”


Duff is not going to solve the housing crisis but managing Shels on a “rainy Wednesday in February” has exposed him to the stark reality of a city plunged into the depths of despair.

We find the 42 year old, former darling of Brian Kerr's underage revolution, ensconced at a League of Ireland club, fighting to keep its ancient ground intact while unearthing season-long abodes for a brand-new playing group.

“It’s probably the hardest, most time consuming thing I’ve ever done in my life,” goes Duff before cracking a smirk. “If I had known that I would have kept the squad from last season.

“I know now, for future windows, if a player doesn’t give an answer within a day [about signing for Shels] he is probably playing you.”

Duff’s managerial traits are unknown but his ability to connect with people remains undimmed. Especially the men who are willing to play for him.

“I tell them all that I’m there for them 24/7. F**king helping lads moving in. On getting them property. Actively trying to get lads jobs just to up their wage because it’s not enough here.

“I’d like to think that I’ve given them everything in every department. Driving lads to scans, f**king anything and everything. It’s been a real eye opener.

“But it’s an amazing bunch already. The sacrifices they’ve made. They, not me, have created a full-time, elite environment on a part-time budget. So they are a special group.”

Inevitably, we circle back to the Daft labyrinth.

“They need an upgrade. I’m not very good at navigating on the system. But, listen, on a serious note, you can see why people are struggling to get properties. I must have emailed 50 places and nobody replies so you can see the housing crisis. It’s there, I’ve seen it first hand. I’m very lucky that I live in a house eight, ten years but trying to get a place is f**king impossible.”

The big sign on Richmond road to “Save Tolka Park” is unmissable and while many plot lines will swirl around the club and Duff this season, he knows precisely what is steaming down the tracks.

“Listen, I am a dreamer but at the same time you cannot get carried away. The most important thing is to stay up. Three years out of the last 15 we have played in the Premier. We have to stay up.

“I like to play a brand of football, play nice stuff and dominate games. It’s all very well saying that here but the most important thing is to win games. I’m not delusional. So, yes, of course I dream, ‘imagine being in a cup final?’

“But strip it all back, let’s stay up.”

Nothing like a Dublin derby, with FAI Cup holders St Patrick's Athletic strutting across town on Friday night, as Act I, Scene I, has his old gaffer ignoring him.

"My memories of Tolka are playing here for Brian Kerr. Shels and Tolka go hand in hand, so it is the perfect fit for me."

Kerr will be in the away section? “Oh yeah well, he hasn’t even spoken to me this week or in the past few weeks so he’s got his game head on already.”

He doesn’t like Shels? “I know that, I don’t think he likes anyone outside Pat’s.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent