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Quiet man Duff built a reputation that speaks volumes

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Damien Duff.  Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Damien Duff. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Damien Duff. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

There has been so much focus on the Irish playing legend that Stephen Kenny decided to omit from his prospective backroom staff as international manager, it could be easy to overlook the Irish playing legend who he did decide to add to his ticket.

While Robbie Keane and Gary Owens prepare to swap Zoom IDs in an attempt to deal with the latest clatter of skeleton bones to topple from the Abbotstown closet, Damien Duff's ascension was, in stark contrast, notable only for its quiet efficiency.

Duff has been ascending the coaching ladder in imposing style, building on a decent early impression at Shamrock Rovers.

He left Rovers' impressive underage set-up in January 2019 to link up with fellow Irishman Brendan Rodgers and, despite the latter's departure to Leicester City, successor Neil Lennon promoted Duff to first team coach.

He has earned regular praise from influential playing members of the runaway Scottish Premiership leaders, and those who attended his training workshops in this country before he joined Celtic speak of an acute sensibility and rigorous attention to detail.

These are facilities which would endear themselves to Kenny and, for all Keane's popularity within McCarthy's set-up, aside from his regular Instagram updates, there were few meaningful revelations from squad members when they were asked about his technical contributions.

Although given carte blanche to do so by McCarthy and, presumably, his employers, Keane's decision to become an assistant at Middlesbrough to Jonathan Woodgate may have hinted at an attempt to broaden horizons, yet also betrayed someone struggling to remain occupied with those already before him.

There wasn't a momentary consideration that Duff could combine roles for club and country; Kenny would not have allowed it. Then again, Duff wouldn't have conceived of such a prospect.

For one thing, there would have been too much noise and that is not Duff's way. Throughout a glittering career, Duff's obvious yearning for a nice place to set his head down and sleep was just one of his many endearing qualities.

He rarely granted interviews and barely appeared on media detail; even when he won his 100th Irish cap during Euro 2012, he had to be virtually strong-armed before being inveigled to appear as if dazed on a dais before the world's press.

Which made it more surprising when, just over a year ago, he decided to augment his predominantly staid but studied observations to the RTE panel with a spectacularly forthright condemnation of the infamous "tennis balls" protest during Ireland's Euro 2020 qualifying win against Georgia in Dublin.

Irish football was a toxic arena then - at least, more toxic than usual - and his intervention was greeted with excessive opprobrium from those who sought to protest the FAI's then refusal to sunder ties with former Chief Executive John Delaney.

If there were two sides to Irish football history in March 2019, it appeared that Duff, rarely a man who would be guilty of offering up a hostage to fortune, had suddenly gone on a mazy dribble before being upended by a full-frontal defensive assault.

Ironically, his erstwhile Irish team-mate, and fellow graduate of that renowned Leicester Celtic school of soccer, Richard Sadlier, led the onslaught.

Deluded

Aside from the usual flip-flopping contrarions, and the predictably deluded FAI old guard loyalists clinging to the old-fashioned certainties of the Charlton era, Duff singularly failed to sense the intense public outrage.

"The fans deserved support and respect, not the scorn of former professionals who should know better," said Simon O'Connor of Dublin 12 in a letter to this newspaper, demanding an "apology".

Duff was being widely perceived as a company man, even though he had absolutely nothing to do with the company at all.

It would have been fascinating to ascertain Kenny's stance on the issue; his political outlook resembles Richard Boyd-Barrett more than Richard Bruton on most issues and he might have privately applauded the insurgence from the disaffected Irish fans.

Of course, he was by then a company man himself and muzzled on most, if not all, issues that didn't revolve around whether or not he was going to play a second striker.

He will be expressive on the field, though. Theirs is a shared philosophy, but the pair share a less publicised trait, one which expects repeated high standards and, already in his short career, Duff has been known to lose his temper.

Having an Irish "legend" on a coaching ticket seems to be de rigeur but Duff's presence is not cosmetic.

Out of touch a year ago, he will now very much be in tune to a different direction for his beloved sport.