Monday 18 December 2017

We have to win: Duff

Pictured at the 20th anniversary of the Ireland’s Under-20 side’s journey to the bronze medals at the Under-20 World Cup in Malaysia at the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Gresham Hotel were Damien Duff and Brian Kerr. Pic: Lorraine O’Sullivan
Pictured at the 20th anniversary of the Ireland’s Under-20 side’s journey to the bronze medals at the Under-20 World Cup in Malaysia at the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Gresham Hotel were Damien Duff and Brian Kerr. Pic: Lorraine O’Sullivan

This Ireland side will have to do something which our national team have not done in 54 years by defeating Austria in Lansdowne Road tomorrow, it's been that long since the Austrians were beaten in Dublin.

Austria were one of the few countries which Damien Duff missed out on as opposition in his long international career but the former Ireland cap feels that anything less than a home win tomorrow will be a blow to our chances of World Cup qualification.

Stunning

Duff was a member of the only Irish team to win a medal at World Cup level, when he helped Brian Kerr's side to a stunning third-place finish at the U20 World Cup finals in Malaysia 20 years ago and Duff was among friends at a reunion of that squad in Dublin yesterday.

There are concerns in Duff's mind, like the fact that Serbia are still the favourites to win the group and also the lack of striking options for Martin O'Neill. Is he worried?

"Of course, but not only for strikers, go through the whole team. Whether the future is bright, I don't know," says Duff. Whether Ireland can finish ahead of Serbia is one matter but Duff sees tomorrow as a winnable game for Martin O'Neill's outfit.

The 1997 Ireland U20 squad. Pic: Lorraine O’Sullivan
The 1997 Ireland U20 squad. Pic: Lorraine O’Sullivan

"When you're playing a team at home, where Austria are in the group and the problems they are having, if you don't come away with the win you'd have to say going back on the bus that you'd be bitterly disappointed. I'm not saying it's win or bust but we have to be looking for three points," says Duff, adding that Ireland have already dropped points, at home to Wales.

"The sending off with half an hour to go, maybe they'd be disappointed not to put them to the sword.

"I think it was Gareth Bale's first or second match back from his ankle injury. They were there for the taking."

With serious problems in the Austrian camp, they too are there for the taking, and the experienced Duff feels that the players don't need to be reminded that this is an Austrian squad ravaged by injury, suspension and withdrawals.

"You don't even need to have a chat. When you are sitting in your room, or in the bath or wherever, you just know," he says, when asked to outline the players' mindset.

"You don't need to be told by the staff. You know that if you have half a brain. The amount of times you hear the team is in turmoil and then they produce a result.

"They (Austria) obviously have a bit about them. You still can't underestimate them. That is the worst thing you could do.

"I know the lads got a bit of stick when they went over there (Serbia). But I thought it was an incredible result. It is the best point we have earned so far in the group. It is a tough place to go. I'd still have Serbia as the team to beat but they still have to come to us, so we will see."

But with a two-strong strike force with a combined age of 67 (Daryl Murphy and Jon Walters), Duff wonders how this side will source goals in the wake of Robbie Keane's retirement.

"We had one man who was there for 15-odd years. He scored all our goals, all the important ones, and like I have always said when he is gone that is when you are going to miss him," says Duff.

"Jonny (Walters) has done incredibly well over the last couple of years but he is on the home straight as well. He is not getting any younger. What is coming up behind? I am not so sure."

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