Duffy still tar­get­ing call-up de­spite de­par­ture of O’Neill

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - MARIE CROWE

IT’S a funny old game. It’s only last month when Mar­tin O’Neill, as Re­pub­lic of Ire­land manger, heaped praise on 24-year-old Dun­dalk player Michael Duffy. “Young Duffy is as skil­ful as any player you are likely to see play­ing in the League of Ire­land — re­ally good abil­ity,” said O’Neill of the young North­ern Ire­land man who was in the process of declar­ing for the Re­pub­lic. “So it would be nice to see the pa­per­work com­ing through and in­cor­po­rat­ing him. Hope­fully he can do it and I think he’s got a chance. He’s cho­sen to play for us which I think is great and I think he is an ex­cep­tion­ally tal­ented player.”

Now, just a short time later, O’Neill is gone, to be quickly re­placed by Mick McCarthy, who in turn will be re­placed by Stephen Kenny after the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in two years’ time.

“As soon as I heard Mar­tin was gone I thought, that’s my chances gone with him,” says Duffy. “But I think that was just my first thought be­cause I was hop­ing so much that I would be in the next squad. He had spo­ken about me a lot and planned to bring me in. Then I re­alised that it’s up to me again now. There will be a new man­ager in so when the start of the sea­son comes around I have to play well and get him to look at me and want to pick me. It’s just a wait­ing a game now, I have to be ready.”

Duffy was a star player in the League of Ire­land last sea­son. He was in­stru­men­tal in Dun­dalk’s suc­cess and was named the PFAI Player of the Year. At un­der­age level, he lined out for both the Re­pub­lic and the North, fea­tur­ing for the lat­ter more re­cently.

The pa­per­work O’Neill was re­fer­ring to is al­most through but the man who called him up and asked him to play for the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land is no longer at the helm.

McCarthy was given the job just over a week ago and, in an added twist to an al­ready dra­matic tale, the FAI also re­vealed that Kenny would look after the un­der-21 team and then suc­ceed McCarthy after the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships. That meant Dun­dalk had lost a man­ager. A dou­ble blow for Duffy, who thrived un­der Kenny.

When the news broke last week­end, sev­eral of the Dun­dalk play­ers were at­tend­ing team-mate Stephen O’Don­nell’s wed­ding in Co Clare.

“When Mar­tin left it was in the back of my mind that maybe Stephen would end up leav­ing Dun­dalk. It was still a bit of a shock to hear it though. It was dis­ap­point­ing for us but great for him, he de­serves it. He rang me yes­ter­day and said thanks for last year and ex­plained his sit­u­a­tion. It was just a nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion, he said if I ever need any ad­vice to give him a call but we didn’t speak about my chances of play­ing for Ire­land.”

Not only have Dun­dalk lost their man­ager but so many play­ers have lost a men­tor. Kenny has a rep­u­ta­tion for re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing play­ers who re­turn to Ire­land after un­suc­cess­ful stints across the wa­ter. He has reignited the ca­reers of sev­eral play­ers, in­clud­ing Pat Hoban, Pa­trick McEleney and Duffy, who was at Celtic.

“He’s re­ally brought the best out of me, he gets the best out of at­tack­ing play­ers. He gives me con­fi­dence and lets me play with free­dom, he’s made me en­joy my foot­ball again by be­liev­ing in me.

“It’s hard to ex­plain how he does it but he just makes you feel re­ally good, by the way he trains you and what he says to you be­fore games, by telling me what he wants from you and al­ways en­cour­ag­ing you.

“He grad­u­ally made me more con­fi­dent, with­out putting me un­der pres­sure. Ev­ery­body wants to do well for him as well, every­one cares be­cause you know how much it means to him and how much he cares.”

Duffy played for Foyle Harps in Derry as a kid and then signed for Derry City when he was 18. A trial for Celtic a year later yielded a trans­fer and a chance to make his dreams come true. How­ever, like so many young Ir­ish play­ers there was no fairy­tale end­ing in Scot­land.

“When it hap­pened it took a while for it to sink in that I’d signed for Celtic and I was over there play­ing with them. It was hard to leave home and move over. I was in a ho­tel for the first two months so took a while to set­tle in.

“For six months I trained with the devel­op­ment squad and I was in and out with the first team. Then I went back for pre-sea­son, did a cou­ple of weeks of it with the first team and I was told I was go­ing out on loan to Al­loa Ath­letic. It was a part-time loan as I was still train­ing with Celtic but I wasn’t part of it ei­ther. I was train­ing but I was like an ex­tra body. It was tough be­cause I had it in my head that I’ve signed for Celtic and I want to play for them now and then it started to slip away.

“I tried not to let it get to me too much be­cause the big­gest thing was that I was play­ing with the team I went out on loan with ev­ery week. But if I did a hard train­ing with Celtic and then I had to go to train­ing again that night with Al­loa, it didn’t mat­ter what I’d al­ready done — I still had to do it.”

Duffy ad­mits that he prob­a­bly gave up on him­self too soon and as a re­sult his con­fi­dence dropped.

“At the time I didn’t think it af­fected me but look­ing back it prob­a­bly did. I wasn’t down or any­thing but it prob­a­bly an­noyed me in the back of my head. It was frus­trat­ing. Look­ing back, I should have be­lieved in my­self a bit more, pushed my­self a bit more. If I was to go back over again I’d know that.”

After Al­loa he went to Dundee on loan and al­though it started brightly things didn’t go to plan and for long pe­ri­ods he wasn’t play­ing. A chat with his friend Pa­trick McEleney about Dun­dalk opened his mind to a move home, but again it was a tough de­ci­sion to make.

“You sign for Celtic, every­one thinks you will play for Celtic and then two years later I’m back. I was think­ing that peo­ple would say I failed but I fit­ted in so well at Dun­dalk that I for­got about that pretty quickly. I liked the team and I was play­ing too and en­joy­ing my foot­ball.”

Duffy has signed a new con­tract with Dun­dalk that will keep him at Oriel Park un­til 2020. It’s a time of change but Duffy isn’t fazed — he’s ready for what­ever comes his way.

‘Look­ing back, I should have be­lieved in my­self a bit more’

Photo: Kyran O’Brien

Michael Duffy hasn’t given up on his dream of play­ing for the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land un­der new man­ager Mick McCarthy.

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