Damien Duff gradually letting go of the game

Ask Damien Duff how retirement is suiting him and he grimaces and allows that “it’s wearing a bit thin now...” 
Damien Duff gradually letting go of the game

Just how thin, he proceeds to illustrate with a brace of tales which are at once funny and poignant but also hugely expressive of the Duffer’s unflagging love for football.

“A couple of weeks ago I went down to Loughlinstown to a five-a-side pitch one morning,” he relates. “I was at a loose end and just rented out a pitch on my own. I felt weird going up asking for a pitch for one please. I had a kickabout on my own, just kicking a ball against a wall, practising with my right foot. I don’t know what I’m practising for but it’s just the love of the game...”

And then he reveals that, having called it a day at Shamrock Rovers on his long and distinguished club and international career, he was almost tempted back into extra-time in the Leinster Senior League. “I played a game, up in Berryfield, Enniscorthy, for TEK Utd with my brother and I’d possibly still be there except I saw a couple of tackles going in that night and I was, like, ‘I ain’t getting involved in this stuff’. It was a friendly, like, but with a view to signing (laughs). But, yeah, I saw a few tackles and it was just, ‘fuckin’ no chance’ — I’ve had enough operations and enough problems, and I’d like to be able to walk.

“So it’s five-a-side now for me. But you miss playing top quality football. You obviously don’t get that with your mates — I hope they don’t read this (smiles).”

Then again, on occasion, his five-a-side colleagues can be cut from a rather different cloth.

“A couple of weeks ago I was over in Russia playing a tournament in a big indoor arena beside the Olympic Stadium and it was really great fun. I had Mendieta, Zambrotta, and the likes on my team. That’s just me being a football fan, wanting to still play competitive football. At the same time, you don’t want to be going around tearing the arse out of it, excuse my French. But that was an exciting trip. I always liked the eastern bloc countries. I dunno, they’re weary and dark but just really interesting.”

Does he relish the increased freedom he has now for travel? “I guess I can jump on a plane with the kids whenever I want and that is nice,” he says.

“But me, being hard- working and honest, I’d like to feel as if I’ve earned a holiday or a trip. I don’t want to turn into...I was going to compare myself with Kim Kardashian there (laughter). A little socialite or something, off doing these things. I like to earn nice things or even a weekend away.”

Keenly aware of what he calls “the perils” that can lie in wait for a retired footballer, Duff admits he’s still in the throes of figuring out his future. At the moment, there’s youth coaching at Rovers, the weekly five-a-side at Spawell and, of course, family time to relish but, to his own surprise, the option of television punditry has also opened up after he debuted for RTÉ on their Champions League coverage.

And if that continues to go well, we should see him popping up on our screens during Euro 2016 — though not, he is quick to stress, for Ireland games.

“I’ve had a couple of offers from different people wanting to know if I’d do Irish games but I’ve refused to,” he says. “It wouldn’t sit right with me. I still have friends there, friendships that have been built up over a long period—not that I’d say anything negative about them anyway. But I wouldn’t risk it.”

Looking ahead to the summer, Duff is predicting a better time for Ireland than the bitter experience with which he bowed out of international football in 2012. “A disaster tournament,” he calls it, that left him not wanting to leave the house for a while.

Ireland’s group in France will be tough too, he concedes, “but not as tough with the Sweden game. If you get off to a good start there, I think anything can happen. They are a one-man team — I don’t think the rest of the Swedish team are up to anywhere near Ibrahimovic’s standards. Italy will be a dark horse because they are who they are and they have a top manager. Belgium are first in the world. But I always find that strange, it doesn’t sound right, especially when Fellaini is playing for them.

“They do (have good players) but whether they are that tight-knit group you see winning a championship, I don’t know. They flattered to deceive in the World Cup. Maybe if they had a bit of what Leicester City have, yeah, I would be all over them. But Benteke and Origi have had disappointing seasons, De Bruyne will be coming back from a similar operation to what I had and I’m still sore and that’s two years ago. And Fellaini, so... listen, they have amazing players but I don’t think they have the togetherness that Ireland have.”

Ahead of Martin O’Neill announcing his squad for the Switzerland and Slovakia friendlies today, Duff suggests these games are primarily important for the opportunity they offer fringe players to stake a claim.

“For the likes of Harry Arter and Alan Judge trying to break into the 23, I’d like to think they’d be running around like men possessed,” he says. “They probably don’t want to hear it but, yeah, they need to impress. We know what Robbie Keane can do, we know what Seamus Coleman and John O’Shea can do. It’s the lads on the fringes who need to come in and put in a proper performance where Roy and Martin say, ‘wow’.”

  • Damien Duff was speaking at Life Style Sports on the arrival in-store of the new Ireland jersey and the launch of a competition to win trips to the Euro 2016 inals in France. See www.lifestylesports.com 

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