Looking down half the length of the pitch towards the Irish penalty area, it was like watching film of the sun coming up over the mountains — on fast repeat.
Especially in that last 20 minutes, when Wales were reduced to pumping a barrage of high balls into the crowded box, Shane Duffy, you might say, rose to the occasion, time and time again.
Wales versus Ireland in the Cardiff City Stadium on Monday was the night the Brighton Rock underlined his credentials as a Green Giant. If Ireland’s smash and grab victory was not quite the stuff of the ‘Miracle Of Moscow’ — that remarkable away day when the Irish really should have been beaten out of sight — it was nonetheless the setting for the kind of command performance by the Derryman which recalled Richard Dunne in his prime.
“Maybe it was just my night and I felt I stepped up,” says Duffy. “But it wasn’t just me. The lads in front of me were outstanding and Randolph pulled off a great save. Big Murph was tremendous — he bullied their centre halves. Everyone put a shift in.”
Once James McClean had put Ireland’s noses in front, Duffy knew that keeping a clean sheet would now mean everything. “I kept saying to myself, ‘we aren’t conceding here’,” he recalls. “It was just one of those things — confidence. And everyone defended. Every ball that was dropping, Meyler, Harry and Jeff in front of us gave us so much protection. Every ball we won we were on the second ball. And James has so much energy, That’s what it’s all about. We’re together. We always get written off but we always come back.”
Wales’ status as favourites in the build-up had meant nothing to the visitors, he says.
“We know inside that dressing room that we can beat anyone. We’ve proved that before. Big games like that, we thrive off. We knew we’d have to soak up a lot of pressure early on and we did that and they got frustrated and never really got through.”
But it’s the side’s collective spirit and determination to which Duffy repeatedly returns when trying to explain how Ireland can pull it out of the fire like this.
“We believe,” he says simply. “We’re not the prettiest team to watch but we’ve got the belief inside that we can beat anyone, literally beat anyone, and that is half the battle. And we’ve got quality in there as well. When you get it right like the other night — semi-finalists in the Euros and beating them on their home patch — it means whoever gets us in the draw know it’s not going to be easy for them.”
Duffy also pays tribute to the management team which has guided the team to a point where they are on the brink of becoming the first Irish side since the breakthrough years of Jack Charlton to qualify for back to back European and World Cup finals.
“The boss is brilliant,” says Duffy, of his fellow Derryman. “He’s had so many big-game experiences. He just makes you calm and gets you up for it. He lets you know how important it is and everyone listens when he speaks. It’s great to learn off him, it’s great for me personally — he’s given me a chance to go out there and perform on a big stage. He’s been brilliant.
“And Roy does his bits — he goes ’round individual players and gets you up for it. It’s great, it’s working at the minute.
“We’ve had lows and highs. Georgia away and Serbia at home were lows and then you turn it around. Two wins, it all changes and everyone’s happy again.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved