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Thursday 8 December 2016

Red card and own goal woes have made me stronger

Shane Duffy, pictured in Ireland training yesterday. Pic: Sportsfile
Shane Duffy, pictured in Ireland training yesterday. Pic: Sportsfile

No amount of coaching can prepare a footballer for what happened to one Irishman over recent games.

Because if Shane Duffy thought that a red card in Ireland's clash with Euro 2016 hosts France in Lyon was a low point... well, football's fate had a few more curved balls to throw at him.

In the first four games for his club in the new season, Duffy would taste defeat three times, score three own goals, be sent off in one match and earn a booking in another. The side were losing and losing a lot, fans were unhappy and Duffy happened to bear the brunt of the boos and catcalls, not to mention the stick he received online, Blackburn fans aware that other clubs were interested in Duffy.

A month on and life's a lot better for Duffy. He's free from suspension and back in the Ireland squad, possibly the starting XI for tonight's game against Georgia. He's moved from a relegation-threatened club (Blackburn) to a promotion-chasing one (Brighton).

"I think I am a better player now, more mature, I had a lot of lows there in that year, I have learned from them," says the Derry native. "I have to try and not make as many mistakes, which any player can make, but I am improving and I want to get better."

That run of own goals hit him hard. "It's hard to explain because I'm a proud person so obviously I'm not going to go out and score a couple of own goals. It was one of them where you're thinking 'where do I look next?'," he says.

"But I had good people around me, family. I tried to do my best and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It's past me now and I got a good move for myself so I've a new lease for me there under a new manager at a new club going a new way.

"I enjoyed my time there at Blackburn, the way it ended wasn't the way I wanted it to end, it's a great club and I haven't a bad word to say about them, but my circumstances changed and so did the club's, I obviously wanted to better myself and go as high as I can, that's the only reason I wanted to leave in the end."

Duffy says those experiences - the red card with Ireland in Lyon and what followed with his club - have made him more sturdy.

"The summer was a great experience for me, the way it ended wasn't ideal for me as well but I loved it, it was the best part of my career, and hopefully I will be stronger for it and I will have learned from it, can put it behind me and can push on from it.

"It was great to be involved in the Euros as I didn't think I would go, to be honest, so to play a part was massive, just to be there. Now it's gone, it's behind me and I am focused on what's now, these two games."

That red card against Italy left Duffy unavailable for the opening qualifier, in Serbia, so he's now playing catch-up, with real competition at centre half from John O'Shea, Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark.

"You get punished for things, don't you? I watched the lads out there and it was a great result," he says.

"Now I just have to try and focus on my club football, and if I'm playing well enough hopefully I'll get selected in squads and then if I get my chance here then I need to take it and try and stay in the team.

"It's competition and I'm looking forward to it, it's good. Whichever two is picked, I'll be backing them."

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