Duffer: I felt we could go all the way
Winger left distraught as Euro dream becomes a nightmare
IRELAND STAR Damien Duff says he's been left devastated by last night's crushing defeat to Spain which leaves the Irish side with the unwanted honour of being the first time at Euro 2012 to be knocked out.
Duff has played for his country 99 times now in a career spanning 14 years and seven qualifying campaigns. He's had good times and bad times but being spanked so comprehensively by Spain was hard for Duff to swallow.
Even more so as he was one of the Irish players who came very close to knocking Spain out of the World Cup finals in 2002, only to lose out on penalties. A decade on from that narrow loss and Ireland were bested in every area of the pitch last night -- apart from in the stands as the Irish supporters out-sang their counterparts from Spain.
Duff is a welcome antidote to the current sense of ennui from many footballers about the international game -- Stephen Ireland once said that "players these days don't see international football as pride in their country, they see it more as a chore".
Not Duffer, who proved his dedication to the national cause by travelling to see a qualifier in Slovakia on a budget airline like a regular punter, just to see the game, as injury had prevented him from playing.
So defeats like last night's one hurt for the Fulham man.
"I'm devastated," Duff told the Herald in Gdansk.
"Speaking for myself and for the lads in the team, but also for the fans who were in the stadium last night -- and the supporters were magnificent -- and everyone at home, we all dreamed that we could do it.
"We really did believe that we could pull something off but we didn't do it on the night and we weren't good enough.
"I dreamed about it. I had a feeling we could go all the way in the Euros this year but it wasn't meant to be.
"I've never had an experience of being beaten so well by a team in my career, not in an Ireland shirt anyway.
"Once we get home people will pick over the bones of what's happened here, how we did in the tournament and what have you.
"But things are going to change, that goes without saying," added Duff, who said that retirement from international football is not on his mind once Euro 2012 ends.
"I will get home and think about things then.
"Now is not the time for thinking or talking about my future as I am just so bitterly disappointed with what happened last night."
Duff has come through some jousts with the Spanish before -- he famously scored the only goal of the game as Ireland's U20 side knocked a classy looking Spain side out of the World Youth Cup finals in Malaysia in 1997 and there was that memorable, close battle with Spain in the 2002 World Cup.
But last night was something different, something to forget.
"Spain are an unbelievable team, but we came to Gdansk genuinely believing that we could get something out of the match. But at times we shot ourselves in the foot, giving away stupid goals at crucial times," added Duff.
"The goals looked great on TV but you could pick the bones out of all four of them and say they were silly ones to give away from our point of view.
"We qualified for the European Championship finals by cutting those types of goals out of our game.
"The manager's not too happy with the goals we let in and we're not happy either.
"You can't give away goals like that against the best team in the world, it's as simple as that. It's a real uphill struggle when you do that. Now we just have to get ready for Italy on Monday.
"We had a meeting after the Croatia game where we spoke, and we'll have a meeting after the Spain game. I'm sure we'll chat as a group today, we will regroup.
"But it's going to be hard to put a finger on why we conceded seven goals in two games, having done so well in the build-up.
"We gave them a 1-0 headstart after three minutes and if you do that against Spain, they will kill you off.
"They are the best international team in the world but we didn't help ourselves."