Friday 28 October 2016

Damien Duff: I fear for next generation of Irish stars

Duff says next generation of Irish stars won't be found if the kids don't get out and practice

Damian Duff
Damian Duff
Herald columnist John GIles, James McClean and Damien Duff

AS A father of two small children, Damien Duff has enough to keep him busy as the returned emigrant ponders the next - and final - move in a glittering career.

The former Ireland international isn't too keen to pass on parenting tips - he has enough on his plate - but in terms of football in this country, and how Ireland can hope to unearth more players in the calibre of Duff, Keane, Given and Dunne, his message is clear: ditch the devices, switch off the phones and let the kids out to play.

It's 18 years since a teenager called Duff made his Premier League debut Blackburn Rovers. In that season of Duff's debut (1996/97), a total of 33 players eligible for Ireland played in the Premier League but nine of them - Duff included - were under 22; and of that nine, seven had come through the system in Ireland (Given, Duff, Dunne, Gareth Farrelly, Ian Harte, Mark Kennedy and Stephen Carr)

Worryingly, in next season's Premier League campaign, apart from Jack Grealish only two Irish lads of that age bracket (Watford's Tommie Hoban and Sean Murray) are likely to play any part and the only Irish-born youngster to make any sort of impact in the Premier League of late was Limerick lad Anthony Forde, with Wolves four seasons ago.

As someone who is back home in Ireland for good, Duff could surely have suggestions to offer and for him, it's simple.

"I think everyone has different ideas, talking about coaches and what have you," said Duff, who made the final move home to Dublin from Australia two weeks ago.

"But all I remember from when I was a kid was kicking a ball against a wall ten hours a day and I don't think you see that any more. I really don't.

"Before you even talk about coaches I think it starts with that. Whether it's because you're not allowed out on the road by your parents any more, all the shit going on in the world, so many distractions - Playstation, Twitter, Facebook.

"Robbie Keane used to do it, Richie Dunne, Shay Given, myself: that's all we did was kick ball and put hours of practice in. I don't think it happens now and I think that's a big problem," added Duff.

"You see kids going around with mobile phones and they're eight years old. It's madness. But then, who am I to preach."

With such a glittering CV, Duff is entitled to preach, and whatever about imparting his views to young players here, he also has something to offer the League of Ireland.

He admits that he didn't support an LOI club before he moved to Blackburn as a 16-year-old but he's confirmed that Ireland is now a permanent home for him and his family and once he can recover from the ankle injury which ended his time Down Under with Melbourne City, he will play senior football here.


"I just want to keep playing football, be happy and be healthy and well," says Duff, who has been linked with a move to either Shamrock Rovers or St Patrick's Athletic, though he says any talk of a deal is premature as he needs to regain fitness first following the injury last February which finish his season

"It's as simple as that, I've no preference really. I've had two six-month injuries in the past two years, I'm 36 years old. I guess at this stage reputations count for nothing really. It's like starting all over again, I just want to get fit and play well in the league," said Duff, adding that another spell in England, once he's fit, is not on the agenda.

"I'm home for good. - I'll go to the AUL after the League of Ireland.I like playing football. It gives me something to focus on. If you retire and you haven't got an awful lot going on, it could be a bit dangerous. I'll keep playing football.

"I don't really have an affinity with anyone, I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. I'll watch a few games and if anyone wants me…" joked Duff, who was speaking at the announcement of a link-up between First Ireland ClubCare and the Beacon Hospital's Centre for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.

"I'm home for good now, I want to raise my kids here. I'm not getting any younger, simple as that, time to move home," says the boy from Ballyboden.

"The plan is to play here - you're probably sick of me saying I want to play in the League of Ireland, everyone probably is. It's on the bucket list. And I like ticking things off the bucket list so that's the plan."

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