Duff welcomes Staunton approach

Damien Duff can already sense a more relaxed air about the Republic of Ireland following the appointment of Steve Staunton as manager.

Six weeks after his official unveiling as successor to Brian Kerr, it was finally down to business today for Staunton and his band of 22 brothers in arms.

It is testament to Staunton that all reported in for duty to play their role in his regime, seen very much as a new broom sweeping clean, ahead of Wednesday’s Lansdowne Road friendly with Sweden.

Evidence of that was witnessed last night as Staunton allowed his players a drink over dinner following the 16th eircom/FAI Annual International Awards ceremony.

There are also a few familiar faces back in town, characters who served under Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy, but axed upon Kerr’s arrival.

One is security officer Tony Hickey, and another is Mick Byrne, a some-time physio, but a larger-than-life figure who is regarded as a motivator, a Mr Fix-It.

Staunton opted to keep Byrne’s return secret until today, with Duff one of those happy to see him back, even if he was given a very rude awakening this morning.

“Flying in yesterday there was just this feeling of excitement, no other word for it,” explained Duff when asked for his feelings on the forthcoming Staunton era.

“I haven’t really had any time to take it all in, but I’m just so looking forward to it.

“There are a few new faces around in the backroom staff we used to work with a few years ago, so hopefully it will bring back the team spirit and togetherness we once had.

“There was definitely something missing at the end of Brian’s reign, I think we all know that, but these familiar faces we were all so close to are back, and that can only help.

“Outside the team you wouldn’t really see these guys, but the likes of myself and a few others were close to them.

“Seeing Mick again was a big shock. The first I knew he was back was when he sneaked into my room, jumped onto my bed and started kissing me. It was a nice way to wake up!

“He is a special man and you can’t help but love him.”

It is that kind of camaraderie that had disappeared towards the end of Kerr’s tenure, one that came to an end in October after he failed to steer the Republic towards this summer’s World Cup finals.

It will certainly be required to compensate for Staunton’s lack of managerial experience, but then Chelsea star Duff does not see that as any kind of problem.

“I’m not worried about that, and I’m sure the rest of the players aren’t either,” said Duff, who turns 27 on Thursday.

Duff was one of seven players put up for interview as a continental style has now been adopted, allowing the media to interview whomever they pleased, another major change under Staunton.

“You have no need to look any further than Stuart Pearce, who is doing well at Manchester City in what his first job,” added Duff.

“Just give Steve a chance. He has been there, done it. No disrespect to Brian, but he probably didn’t know the ins and outs of every day life in the English game.

“Whereas Steve knows what footballers are like, what goes on, and I think he will be good.

“Hopefully he can get us back qualifying for major tournaments, and getting that winning mentality back. That is all we care about.

“We all just need to stick together for once – players, staff, fans and the media – and hopefully we can go in the right direction.

“It certainly felt that way last night. There was more of a relaxed atmosphere.

“We were allowed to have a pint, and that is kind of relaxing in itself!”

Duff, one of the more senior players in the wake of the retirements of Roy Keane, Kenny Cunningham and Matt Holland, admits to a greater sense of responsibility with Staunton blooding several youngsters.

However, more importantly, he feels he owes it to himself to show the Irish public they have yet to see the best of him, despite 57 caps to his credit.

“I’m nowhere near my peak,” said a straight-talking Duff.

“I’ve had a couple of injuries over the past couple of months, and I tried to play through them.

“I’m now back pain free. I’ve been working hard to get back to 100 per cent fitness and sharpness.

"Hopefully I’ll be there Wednesday.

“Although I’m not back in the Chelsea team, I’ve had an awful lot more lows in my career. I’ve been there, done that, so it doesn’t matter.

“I will still give 100% every day.”

Spurs striker Robbie Keane, meanwhile, would appear to be the front runner to take over the captaincy from Cunningham, edging out Shay Given, Kevin Kilbane and Richard Dunne.

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