Sunday 20 October 2019

Duff: Irish are due some luck

Winger believes Paris miracle is possible if team can take chances and get the breaks

THE groundsman's shed in Gannon Park has walls that could tell a tale. In football grounds across the world, such places are soaked in wintergreen and in most cases, sump oil. But as a media venue? Not up to much.

As someone said to the Duffer while he made himself comfortable amongst the whitewash and lawnmowers; "We've been in low places before Damien, but never as low as this."

Much guffawing ensued and Duffer smiled. He doesn't do much press with the Irish team and he's mostly left alone, but when his name finally rolls around and he has to make an appearance, there's an understanding that he hates talking about himself and it's best to keep things focused on the football.


But this was funny. With a bitter, bitter wind howling up the Irish Sea and rain bouncing off foreheads leaving a dent, the logistics of a pitch side interview with Duff seemed to overwhelm the FAI.

After some extraordinary scenes in the Croke Park press box on Saturday night, which involved a tug of war over a trestle table between five French hacks demanding desk space and Abbotstown staff, interviews conducted in the open air seemed like a handy enough organisational task.

After all, the Gannon Park dressing rooms and a huge sports hall lay nearby but the best they could come up with at short notice was a shed. A nice shed, but still a shed.

Small rodents and spiders own this kind of real estate and maybe for Duffer, this was the ideal place for the media to hang out.

For the quintessential football man, a place like a groundsman's shed is probably much more appealing than smart hotel conference rooms.

Duff was bright, breezy and upbeat about what lies ahead. While there is football to be played, he is happy and for the first time in a while, he seems to be fit and content.

The fixture in front of him and the rest of the Irish players holds out the possibility of an involvement in the biggest and most unlikely result in the history of Irish football, one that would trump all but the biggest days in Germany, Italy, America and Japan/Korea.

Duff knows this and his eyes light up when he's asked how important it would be to beat the French.

"It would be the biggest ever, there's no doubt about that. But we have to think that we can or else there's no point in going."

There's little doubt that the Irish players invested and lost a huge amount of emotional, physical and mental energy in Saturday night's defeat by France and there must be a part of every one of them asking the hard question. Is there any way back?

As many as 10,000 Irish fans will make the trip and Duff understands that the players must put the memory of Nicolas Anelka's deflected winner out of their minds.


"You have to get over these things fast, especially with another game coming so quickly.

"Training was bright this morning and we're looking forward to Paris," he said.

"Sure, it's a massive uphill task. Away goals are a massive thing in football. But if we go there and nick one early well then it's game on. We're all confident we can do that. After that it's level and bring it on."

Duff doesn't see much mystery in the story behind Saturday's loss. The French had the ball too often and then scored would be his summary.

"It was there for all to see. They had a lot of possession. They're a good team and they keep the ball well, better than us."

But Duff saw signs for optimism; "When it came to chances, they didn't really create a lot. We kept our shape, which is what we do an awful lot of work on, that's why we're in the play-offs. It's worked well for us in the past."

Duff does not subscribe to the notion that luck has a particular fondness for Irishmen -- maybe the opposite.

"I'm not sure about that at all. It was an unlucky goal and we're due a bit of luck. Everyone says the luck of the Irish but I don't think we've had any luck at all over the last few qualifying campaigns."

As one of the principle creative outlets in Trapattoni's system, Duff will be asked to do a lot more than he did at Croke Park.


"When we got in about them, we did create things and I think we can do it again. We have to take a few more chances than we usually do.

"It's a tried and trusted system with the gaffer. The shape, it's the same for me at Fulham. It must be an Italian thing what with Roy Hodgson working over there as well.

"We're looking for a goal or two or three. We'll have to take a few chances but if they score, it's not the end of the world. One goal and it's a draw but we're looking for another."

Talk like that helps rebuild battered confidence but also serves to remind us of the scale of the task facing him and the rest of the Irish team in the Stade de France.

Asked whether he can recall a game at club or at international level with a similar set of circumstances attached, he struggled. Perhaps one of Chelsea's European adventures?

"I was thinking that when I woke up this morning.

"I have an exciting life, don't I," he laughed.

"To be honest, this is new to me. I haven't ever travelled away trailing and needing to resurrect a tie. It's new to me and I'm sure it's new to an awful lot of the lads. But we'll just go there and enjoy it."


Duff's form for Fulham has included goals and he knows himself that he hasn't had anything like a prolific career in that area. He's due a goal for the Republic of Ireland, a fact he is painfully aware of and would be delighted to put right tomorrow night.

"It would be nice, I've been getting them at club level and I'm due one for Ireland. I feel good and I feel sharp.

"I don't see why not."

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