Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Irish unearth a gem in Shane Duffy

As international debuts go, it's hardly up there with scoring a hat-trick in your first Ireland game, a la David Kelly, or outshining the World Cup holders, as Paul McGrath did.

But one fact emerged from the training game between a fringe Ireland team and an U23 side made up of home-based players: Ireland have made a great discovery in Everton defender Shane Duffy.

With top-class Irish central defenders very hard to find at the top level, Duffy is a real find. He proved that last night as the Derry native was the stand-out player in the Ireland senior side which defeated the U23s 1-0 thanks to a 21st-minute goal from Anthony Stokes.

Duffy was the most inexperienced member of a back four, which included players with experience in the Champions League (Darren O'Dea), international football (Paul McShane) and the English Premier League (Manchester City's Greg Cunningham) but Duffy, with only two first-team appearances to show for his time at Everton, looked the part.

Duffy was the real find of the night and the man from Derry told the Herald that, after months of talk and discussion and media debate, he was relieved to just play a game in the shirt of Ireland, albeit an unofficial training game.

"I just wanted to get out there and play and I think I did OK," said Duffy. "It was a big thing for me to come down here and play for the Republic. It's something I always wanted to do and the lads in the squad and the staff were great with me, they really helped me settle in.

"I think myself and Darren O'Dea had a good partnership at centre half. Even though he's young Darren has a lot of experience. He's played in the SPL and the Champions League for Celtic and he's played for the Irish senior team before so that was great for me, to have someone like that beside me.

"It was a hard game for us as the U23 side were very sharp. They have some very good players in the side and they didn't just turn up for the sake of it. They took the game to us and that's what we needed," added Duffy.

The 18-year-old made his Everton debut last December during their Europa League campaign but since then he's been starved of football, apart from occasional matches for the Toffees reserves, so he was happy to be out on the field.

"I just needed a game, I haven't played much football in the last while," Duffy added. "Last season went well for me. I got my Everton debut, played two games and won a player of the year award so it was a great season and being here with the Republic has finished it off nicely.

"The conditions in Malahide last night weren't easy, but we still had a decent game," added Duffy.

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