Up the Duff – The Comeback Kid

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He’s had to wait almost two years between his first and second caps but an impressive display in his home debut against Switzerland has some tipping Shane Duffy for a place in Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad. Having suffered a life-threatening injury on international duty six years ago, the Derry native knows all about comebacks.

The man at the centre of a tug-of-war between Northern Ireland, whom he had represented at under-age level, and the Republic of Ireland, it was Duffy’s case that prompted the IFA to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The judgement ultimately went in favour of the southern neighbours but Duffy has had to bide his time to make an impact. Now his hour may be coming.

Image: @ShaneDuffy34

Image: @ShaneDuffy34

After joining Everton in 2008 as a youth-team player, the defender made his first team début versus AEK Athens in the UEFA Europa League in December 2009, coming on for the injured Sylvain Distin. The boy who had played with Foyle Harps in Derry seemed to have the world at his feet. Then came the dream call from Republic boss Giovanni Trapattoni to report to the Irish training camp in Malahide in May 2010

Aged just 18-years-old, Duffy was involved in a freak collision with the goalkeeper in a practice game at Gannon Park which saw him suffer life-threatening damage to his liver. FAI team surgeon Professor John O’Byrne and doctor Alan Byrne attended to Duffy on the pitch before he was rushed to the nearby Mater Hospital in Dublin for emergency surgery. “Shane was very frightened. He thought he was going to die,” said Byrne afterwards. “Shane collided with a player in a way that you would see thousands of times in football matches. It was a freak injury that in another 100 years of medicine, we may never see again.”

An emotional assistant manager Marco Tardelli commented at the time of speaking with Duffy’s father Brian as his own son was around the same age. Brian told the BBC: “We knew there was something wrong when Shane didn’t get up. There was serious concern that we could have lost Shane in the ambulance – he was in severe pain.”

“I should have been burying my son as the doctors and professors say they have never heard the like of it.”

Duffy suffered a severed artery near his liver and required an emergency operation to address the problem. At one point there was 3.6 litres of blood in his abdomen, but the procedure was a success.

He made a full recovery and was back in action within ten weeks playing in a reserve friendly versus Sligo Rovers. Loan moves to Burnley and Scunthorpe followed before he made his Premier League début at White Hart Lane on 11 January 2012, and marked his first start three days later against  Aston Villa.

In February 2012 Duffy was recalled to the Irish squad to replace Richard Dunne for the friendly with the Czech Republic but didn’t make it onto the pitch.

He made three substitute appearances for Everton in the 2011-12 season but was an ever-present on the bench. The following September he went out on loan to Yeovil for whom he made 37 appearances. On 1 September 2014, Duffy joined Blackburn Rovers on a three-year deal and has been an ever-present for the Ewood Park outfit this season.

Still just 24 years of age, Duffy is the former captain of the Irish U21 team. Perhaps a measure of his character, he once skipped club-mate Darron Gibson’s stag party to lead Noel King’s side in a friendly against Denmark. In June 2014 Duffy finally made his senior international debut as he put in a solid defensive shift against a very attack-minded Costa Rica side in Philadelphia.

It’s taken almost two years for his second appearance, but it was worth the wait. A man-of-the match display in the home friendly against Switzerland has given Duffy an outside chance of booking a seat on the plane to Euro 2016. ‘Everyone is fighting for places now, but obviously we know that only 23 can be selected for the final squad, so everyone is doing their best and trying their hardest to impress,’ he said after the Aviva Stadium win. If June comes too soon, we may see Duffy as a regular at the heart of the Irish defence come the World Cup qualifiers later this year. You suspect former management team Trapattoni and Tardelli will be as happy to see that happen as their successors O’Neill and Keane.

Main image: @FAIreland

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