Cup of good cheer for Duffy in trophy hunt
All of a sudden, the FA Cup has a fresh lustre when looked at through the eyes of Manchester United supporters.
Jose Mourinho likes claiming credit for trophies, even minor ones like the Community Shield, and given their midweek exit from the Champions League, tomorrow's FA Cup quarter-final clash with Brighton has added importance, United's only remaining chance of silverware this season.
'The Special One' has just one opportunity to win a trophy.
But the opposition camp have plans for the Cup as well. Big plans, if you listen to Shane Duffy.
The 26-year-old is enjoying life in the Premier League, his Brighton side comfortably in mid-table, one place outside the top half, though Duffy shows his age when asked to recall his first memory of an FA Cup final.
"The Liverpool-Arsenal one in Cardff, I think it was 2001, when Michael Owen scored," he says.
But even though he grew up in the Premier League era, when top-flight survival was the main goal for many clubs who degraded the FA Cup by playing a weakened side, Duffy is a fan. A big fan.
"I love the FA Cup and I wish people took it more seriously or treated with a bit more respect," Duffy told The Herald earlier this week, sitting down for a chat at Brighton's impressive training complex. "The way football is now, it's all about Premier League survival, or promotion, they are seen as more important than a trophy. I'd love to win a trophy, get a medal. The FA Cup means a lot to me, hopefully I get to play this weekend and we can get to the semi-final at least.
"You get judged on what you win as a player. Don't get me wrong, you have to be reasonable, see what kind of club you are at, for this club staying in the Premier League this season would be an achievement, that's the most important thing, to stay in the league.
"But when you are there, in the last eight, why not give it a go, try and get as far as you can and with a bit of luck you never know."
The two clubs involved in tomorrow's quarter-final had a bit of a spanking in their last outing: Duffy's return to Goodison Park ended in a 2-0 defeat as Brighton went down 2-0 to Everton while United were dumped out of Europe on Tuesday night. Brighton also lost the last time they played United, in the league back in November, but the tight nature of that game gives the Derry native hope.
"It was tight the last time we played United, a lot of people said it was our best performance of the season but we lost, with a goal that was a deflection so we were unlucky. It's a tough game but we fancy ourselves on our day against anyone and if you have the right mindset you have half a chance."
This is Duffy's ninth season in senior football but it's also his best: he's played in every league game bar one, has a (relatively) clean disciplinary record.
That's a long way from his experience at the start of last season, while he was at Blackburn, when everything he did turned out badly, a string of bookings, red cards and own goals.
Singled out for abuse by Blackburn fans (which carries on today in the online world), he took it badly until a move to Brighton ended his misery.
"It was a real low," Duffy reflects. "I wasn't right, mentally, to be playing. I knew this move was going to happen but it was getting delayed, I just wanted to play football so I was still going out there but I shouldn't have been playing. It was my own fault.
"The manager at the time, Owen Coyle, was great with me, he needed me to play so I went out there and tried for him but I knew I was leaving, it was all quite tough. I have had a few lows but that one was a low in my career. though there are more highs at the minute.
"This is a good place to be and people on the outside are starting to give a bit of respect to Brighton.
"Everyone changes their manager so often but we have the foundations right, Chris has been here for a few seasons, the club is well run.
"This club has everything in place to be a Premier League club, all the facilities, it's a good place to live, we have a great manager, the owner has been good, as a footballer it's good to know you are in a good place."
Duffy mentions that particular moments at international level have been part of his learning curve, like the lessons taught by Antoine Griezmann (against France in Lyon) and Christian Eriksen (World Cup play-off).
But in his first full season in the Premier League, Duffy is at home.
"I can't get too far ahead of myself but I feel quite comfortable, every Saturday I feel good and I feel 'I can play at this level'," he says. "It's been good for me this season and the big aim for me is to be in the Premier League again next season, it's the best league in the world and you have to try and test yourself.
"I never look at a player and feel inferior, if he plays better than you then fair enough, he may be a better footballer than you but I'd never look at a player and think 'well you are so superior to me I will just go out and try my best'."