Duff back at school but ducks questions

IF Damien Duff thought visiting part of his past might have offered some refuge from the constant questions about his future, he was sadly mistaken.

Even in the leafy surrounds of the De La Salle in Churchtown yesterday, people wanted to know what colour shirt Duffer will be wearing next year.

The common consensus seemed to be red, but whether it will be that of Manchester United, Liverpool or Blackburn’s away kit was still unclear.

Even Duff’s attempts to clear it up, by repeating he is still a Blackburn Rovers player, were batted away. After all, they’d read the papers on Sunday.

In his situation, as the Premiership’s most sought-after talent, every few words are angled to mean something out of context. Last Sunday, he was found to be “blasting” Blackburn Rovers for setting a high price on his head.

All the kids had different ideas about where Duff’s future lay. One enterprising student was even brave enough to adorn the back of his Manchester United shirt with Duff 11. It seems the champions would be a popular destination for Duffer, around Churchtown at any rate.

Yesterday’s quick trip back to his schooldays was a bit strange. Duff was hardly Tom Brown when he was in the De La Salle.

What he recalls most from the establishment where he once sat and learned maths from Dermot Keely was the lack of football. It forced him to kick as a rugby fullback for two years.

“Yeah, it’s weird to be back. My only abiding memory was that there was no football. They have a football team now, but back then, there was none. I even had to give up football for a

couple of years to play rugby, although I had to give that up when the other lads got a bit bigger than me.”

Back then, a couple of his teachers wondered if Duff would be better served seeing through his education than trying to make it in England. Keely, a man who knows his football better than most, had the same quiet word in Pat Devlin’s ear. But, there shouldn’t have been any doubts.

The lack of football in Churchtown almost drove Duff to distraction. After all, this is a guy who only seems to be truly enjoying himself when twisting and turning defenders. With that in mind, apart from the final 10 games of the season when he was the chief

architect of Blackburn’s sparkling run into the UEFA Cup, it must have been a frustrating season. Two games in, four games out.

“It was the same injury I kept getting,” Duff says. “My hamstrings were just troubling me the whole time. I did get a few other niggly injuries. But it was frustrating.

"I would come back, thinking I am in the clear, play two games and get injured again. The physio said it was the amount of football I played, coming back from the World Cup.

“Even so, that didn’t make it any less annoying because I was really keen to get back and build on my performances from the season before and at the World Cup.”

Despite missing 20 matches for Blackburn last season, he still notched a personal scoring record, an indication of how far his game has developed.

And spending so much time watching as a frustrated spectator last season may ensure he is sharper for Ireland’s two upcoming Euro 2004 qualifiers.

One question is where could he play next month. Against Norway, Brian Kerr used him in a free role that had worked well in the World Youth Championship in Malaysia. Duff caused the Norwegian defence a series of problems and Kerr might be tempted to deploy him in the hole again.

“I just want to play. My favourite position is the left. I know it inside out having played there since I was seven.

"But, I enjoyed it in the hole. It gave me the freedom to go and look for the ball, whereas sometimes on the left, you can get isolated and the game can pass you by.”

With Kerr on board and Duff elevated to the linchpin, the course towards Portugal is looking a lot more like smooth sailing. Six points from the two games in Lansdowne and Ireland will be in the final shake-up. A point not lost on Duff.

“Brian has always got the best out of me, throughout his career and mine. We have got off to a great start, so hopefully it will continue. Everyone seems to be beating each other in this group. But we are back on track and if we win these two games coming up, and if we play to the best of our abilities, we should be right up there.”

Duff has been finding it harder and harder to keep a low profile. And a summer of speculation, even if little of it is fuelled by him, will follow him through this close-season. Even in his alma mater, they have their own ideas.

Damien Duff presented a set of adidas Teamwear when he returned to De La Salle Churchtown.

Adidas Teamwear is a range of football clothing and accessories that utilises the latest fabric technologies so teams from schools leagues and local leagues can now wear the same kit as professional footballers.

Catalogues are available now from the adidas customer care line on (01) 618 0908 and kits will be able to be delivered in seven working days.

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