'It's a blow for us but it's worse for Keith'
Rovers boss Fenlon laments retirement of Fahey, but Duff close to making debut
Shamrock Rovers fans could, finally, get to see Damien Duff in the hooped jersey in the coming days.
But the buzz about a possible League of Ireland debut for the veteran has been diluted by the news that Duff's former international team-mate, Keith Fahey, has played his last game as he's been forced to retire.
Fahey, 32, has not played for Rovers this season as he battled with hip and knee injuries, but while Duff and fellow international Stephen McPhail could get to appear for the Hoops this season as they try to secure a top-three finish for their ticket to European football next season, the news on Fahey is grim.
"It's bad news for the club but, more importantly, it's bad news for Keith and it's terrible that he's had to finish playing at such a young age," Rovers boss Pat Fenlon told The Herald.
"It's not a case of me as manager or the club missing Keith, it's the fact that his career is over, he's been told on medical advice to finish before he does himself any more damage, it's terrible news."
While Fahey now plans the next stage of his life beyhond the playing field, tonight's game away to Longford Town comes too early for Duff, but the 36-year-old could possibly make his debut at home to Cork City next Monday night.
"As this moment in time I honestly don't know if Damien will play on Monday, it depends on how we are fixed squad-wise after the game tonight," says Fenlon, who has a only patched-up midfield available for a tricky game away to Longford due to suspension (Kieran Marty Watters and Pat Cregg) and injury (Duff, McPhail, Ryan Brennan).
"If everyone is fit for Monday, then it's unlikely Damien will play but if we pick up more injuries over the weekend and are really short, then I might need to call on Damien, it could be a case of necessity. he is close and he has been in for the last few training sessions but we have to make sure he's right before we play him."
Duff has been with Rovers for a number of weeks now, and having waited since last February (when he suffered an injury at previous club Melbourne City) for a taste of first team action, he's keen to get back out on the field.
And Rovers could need his craft and guile. With their interest in both cup competitions ended (by St Pats in both cases), it's all about the league now for Rovers and they face into a very hectic period, with games in the next three weeks against Longford Town, Cork City, Sligo Rovers, Dundalk and Bohemians.
Indeed, the next two games could define the Hoops' season, especially Monday's league game at home to second-placed Cork City.
"It's a big weekend and the table could have a very different complexion after Monday's games," says Fenlon.
"If Dundalk and Cork keep winning, then good luck to them but if they do drop points, we have to do our work and not drop points, it will be frustating if they drop points and we don't make up any lost ground."
But before that televised clash with Cork, Rovers have to deal with Longford Town, who showed with their draw away to Dundalk last week (with 10 men) that they are no pushovers.
"Getting a draw in Oriel Park with 11 men is hard enough but to do it with 10 men is a real credit to Tony Cousins and his team," says Fenlon, a team-mate of the Longford boss in their playing days at Chelsea, Bohemians and Rovers.
"We've had two hard games against Longford already this season so I know we'll have a tough night down there but we have to go and win the game, there's no room for error now."