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Sunday 19 November 2017

Duff: 'It's not pretty but it's very effective'

Ex-winger says Irish 'messed up along the way' in Group D

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane, pictured at Tuesday’s World Cup play-off draw in Zurich, Switzerland.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane, pictured at Tuesday’s World Cup play-off draw in Zurich, Switzerland.

No longer a professional footballer and now an occasional TV analyst, Damien Duff is glad that he had a night off from the old punditry gig when Ireland played in some of their recent games in the World Cup qualifying campaign.

"We've had a lot of positive results, and the negative ones, the likes of Georgia and those games, luckily enough I haven't been working those nights," Duff jokes.

But the style of play seen by supporters - and analysts - from the current Republic of Ireland team is no joke, in Duff's eyes at least.

The team lack the flair which was evident at times in Duff's Ireland career, especially under Mick McCarthy and the RTE TV panel, which is Duff's outlet for his views on the present side.

In a lengthy conversation at St Kilian's Senior National School on Dublin's southside yesterday, Duff on hand to publicise the great work done by SARI, he touched on the battles he faces in his role as manager of the Shamrock Rovers U15 side and his insistence on excellence from his players.

Conflicted

So it's a conflict for him to demand the same perfection from the national team. Duff seems to agree with most observers: it's not pretty, but it is pretty effective.

"I don't think you can argue, except for maybe one or two results, the likes of Georgia, a couple at home," Duff says of Martin O'Neill's record.

Damien Duff (left), joined Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI) Director Brian Kerr and the pupils of St Kilian’s Senior National School in Tallaght for anti-discrimination training held as part of FARE Football People Action Weeks. For the month of October SARI is delivering free anti-discrimination football training workshops in primary schools across the country.
Damien Duff (left), joined Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI) Director Brian Kerr and the pupils of St Kilian’s Senior National School in Tallaght for anti-discrimination training held as part of FARE Football People Action Weeks. For the month of October SARI is delivering free anti-discrimination football training workshops in primary schools across the country.

"We've had some of the biggest results in our football history over the last couple of years and it's under Martin. So that's why it's hard to knock him. I guess we are always chasing perfection. Maybe we think we are better than we are.

"Obviously I'll be on the (RTE) panel and you really get into it and you are picking the bones of it: yeah it's not pretty. You are clipping games and there is not a lot of stuff. But then you can look at loads of positives.

"There are spells in the Germany game where we keep it for 20 or 30 passes. Moldova away, again the same. We can go from one end of the spectrum to another like that.

"I guess you guys (media) and us as well, we'd be going through the style, whether he qualifies or doesn't qualify in the next couple of weeks.

"So listen, we all laud Jack Charlton as the biggest football hero, probably, in this country. That's the way he played and he is a big hero. Maybe we have to look at that sometimes."

Duff reached two major tournaments in his seven campaigns with the national team and to him, back-to-back qualification under O'Neill would be something to admire - even though the national feeling about the national team is more Nidge Delaney than John Delaney.

Bizarre

"Yeah I think it's a bizarre one, it's a love-hate one," he says.

"We're all quick to criticise the style of play and what have you but we're in another play-off and it's probably the best draw we could have had.

"If we get there it would be the first since Jack to qualify for two consecutive major tournaments but it's not pretty at times.

"I think we all know that but maybe with the personnel that's just the way Martin goes. I think he's played a lot like that mind you in his career.

"I still think we messed up along the way, the like of Austria at home, Wales, Georgia away. You look at Serbia and I think they won by the group by a point.

"I still think it was still there to win. Listen. it's not pretty but we're in another play-off aren't we?"

And what of Duff's role as a TV pundit and his initial promise not to cover Ireland games as he was too close to the squad to be objective?

"Obviously when I first started doing it, you've got a few mates and you don't want to criticise them," Duff says.

"I'd like to think I've grown into the role somewhat and they just asked me to do it.

"Again, it's a good pressure so I like that. It's the closest thing you can get to football. And most of my mates are gone from there. I haven't really been in contact with anyone - a couple of staff or what have you. Whether I'm on the panel or in the pub, I'll be cheering them on like everyone else."

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