‘Before the game I was the proudest man in Ireland’: Duff still believes in Shels squad

Former Ireland international brought back to Earth after 3-0 defeat to St Pat’s at home

Damien Duff played ball this week. Considering an almost non-existent media persona at the peak of his playing powers, gliding from Chelsea to Newcastle United, at the end of a bitterly cold Friday night inside Tolka Park, Duff strode back across the pitch to thaw out wating reporters with the glow of usable quotes.

“I am glad it is over now. I don’t like it, I know the spotlight. I am not sure if other managers are going ‘Look at Duffer f**king getting it.’ Well, I don’t want it. So they can have it, alright?”

Shelbourne have just been thumped 3-0 by St Patrick's Athletic in the season-opening Dublin derby. Jack Moylan did misfire at least four goal scoring opportunities, but the gulf in quality was stark as an unforgiving campaign opens up before the first division champions and their new manager.

“I am awfully disappointed, but I will go home and have a glass of red and sleep well,” said Duff. “I am very, very pleased and proud of them. Before the game I was the proudest man in Ireland walking the squad out onto the pitch. They are just fantastic guys.


“Listen, we are close knit, we will move on...Jack will score loads of goals this season.”

Defensively unsound and in obvious need of a striker, Shels are also monopolising the off field news with Dublin City Council announcing that the club’s board intends to buy back Tolka Park and eventually abandon the co-sharing plan with Bohemians at a redeveloped Dalymount Park.

The stadium narrative will follow Duff around all year, but it looks like the club’s recruitment-drive or lack thereof over the winter months, rather than the “Save Tolka Park” campaign, will prove the real obstacle to achieving success.

“It’s a special place, Shels belong here for me,” said Duff. “But even Shels aside, it is an institution of Irish football so, whatever, houses or apartments, if we can build them elsewhere then great and keep Tolka Park, even better.”

The eye sore that is Tolka Park cannot be glossed over. There is a welcoming feel to the place, but facilities remain lightyears behind League of Ireland standards, which are already “horrific” in comparison to the GAA.

Duff was adamant that this newly created Shels squad will now believe that they belong in the company of St Pat’s, who remain the second or third best side in the league, even if a re-watch of Friday’s defeat suggests an entirely different reality.

“It was a massive night in my life,” said Duff before retreating to Kilmacanogue for some tasty pinot noir. “I know for the players it was the biggest game some of them ever played in... they have showed what they can offer.

“Bizarre as it sounds, we have lost 3-0, okay, we move on, but I think tonight gives them an awful lot of belief.”

St Pat’s, already surging from last year’s FAI Cup success, should posess enough firepower to keep pace with Shamrock Rovers. They have a rare street-footballer in Chris Forrester, with Billy King and Darragh Burns both capable of scoring sensational goals while the arrival of the Doyles, Eoin and Mark, brings a fresh dimension to their attack.

“I don’t think three-nil is a fair reflection on the game,” Duff protested. “There is the disappointment of losing but the lads were brilliant, they never felt threatened in the game. It was sets and transition football [that beat us] but when Pat’s had the football we had a good shape.

“At half-time I got rather animated because I wanted them to know that, yeah we went in one-nil down, but that first 45 minutes was good for them to know that they absolutely belong here. And to believe and go back out and give more, if they can, because we are fit enough.

“They know what we have signed up for. We’ll pick them up and go again.”

Up to Drogheda go Shels next Friday in search of usable evidence that they “absolutely belong” in the Premier Division.