Game is still a passion play for 'Duffer'
No Ireland punditry for Damien but ex-winger concerned over youth
Only a matter of months after he decided to hang up his boots and retire from playing, the passion for the game still burns for Damien Duff.
He jokes that, only last month, he was so keen to have a kick-about that he hired a five-a-side pitch on the south side of Dublin one morning, on his own, so he could have a kick-around, admitting "I felt weird going up asking for 'a pitch for one, please'."
Duff, now 37, leads a couple of lives at the moment. As an ex-footballer he's poking around in various areas, trying to figure out what he wants to do next; most of the time he's doing the normal things which lads his age do: hang about with his kids, do the school run, game of five-a-side with his mates.
Then there's the other Damien Duff, the one which can have any amount of TV work he wants, the one which still has a touch of glamour.
So, being invited over to Moscow to play in a five-a-side with some star veterans in an indoor arena was slightly different from his recent experience of playing for TEK United down in Enniskerry, where the tackles were flying in to a frightening extent.
"In Moscow, I had Mendieta, Zambrotta and the likes on my team. That's just me being a football fan, going across, wanting to still play competitive football," he says, joking that he doesn't want to be seen as "Kim Kardashian or someone, a socialite".
His acceptance of TV work is conditional, Duff not at all eager to become a rent-a-quote at a time when mates like John O'Shea and Robbie Keane are still playing, so while he may do TV punditry for games at Euro 2016, he has ruled out being a commentator for Ireland matches.
"I've had a couple of offers from different people wanting to know if I'do Irish games but I have refused to, it wouldn't sit right with me," says Duff.
"I still have friends there; friendships that have been built up over a long period of time - not that I'd say anything negative about them anyway. But I wouldn't risk it."
Yet Duff is energised and forthright about the state of the game in Ireland or, to be more precise, the approach of young players.
"With regards to (coaching) hours, that's something I'm passionate about. I don't think kids get anywhere near the hours that they should, compared to what England are doing," Duff says.
"I remember when I was a kid I'd go out, train once a week, have a five-a-side and go home and then just play on the Saturday. So for me, it's just hours of practice. I don't think kids get anywhere near what they should.
"My whole childhood was playing football before school, at lunchtime and when I got home. If I had a game on a Saturday, I'd go home and play football after. I could be wrong, but I don't think there's that desire to go out.
"I just think there are so many distractions - tablets, iPhones for 10 and 11-year-olds. I was probably lucky because I didn't have those distractions. Whether I was hitting 20 or 30 hours a week back in 1990, I don't think kids get anywhere near that now. So it's not hard to understand, it's not rocket science. If the kid's doing four or five hours and I was doing 30 hours, he can't lace my boots," Duff added.
"Everyone keeps saying 'we don't have coaches'. I just think it's absolute nonsense, it's ridiculous, just go out on the street and kick a ball, that's what I did, that's what Robbie (Keane) did. If you go to anyone that's got to England, it's just hours, hours of practice. And enjoy it. It's what I lived for, but there are so many distractions now.
"Nowadays, they're on Facebook, taking photos, chatting up girls or whatever. I hadn't even kissed a girl when I was going to England at 16. It's sad, I know," he laughs and returns to his tale of hiring that pitch in Loughlinstown for his solo kick-about.
"I don't know what I'm practising for but it's just the love of the game and I don't think you can teach a kid that, they either have it or they don't. Maybe we're lucky in a way as well that we were inspired by a generation of years before, 88, 90 or 94 and maybe kids don't have that now, I don't know. You can look deeper but on the surface level it's about getting out on the roads as that's where it starts."