There were times when, such was his enduringly youthful enthusiasm for the game, it seemed as if Damien Duff would go on forever, but yesterday came the news that, reluctantly, one of Ireland’s best-loved players has had to call time on his football career.
The 36-year-old admits he had hoped to play one more season with Shamrock Rovers, but the physical toll taken by a long career and its inevitable injuries — most recently last February, when a ruptured calf tendon curtailed his spell in Australia with Melbourne City and saw him return home for his swansong with the Hoops — has finally forced his hand.
“After much deliberation, I have decided to bring my professional football career to an end,” he said in a statement. “My heart wants me to continue playing but my body has finally won the battle and told me to stop.
“I’ve lived every young boy’s dream and I know I am a very lucky man. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me along the journey from schoolboy football in Dublin and moving to England as a teenager right up to today.
“I am extremely proud to have won 100 caps for my country — it was always my greatest pleasure to represent Ireland and I have many magical memories from my international career.
“While I have finished playing, I am progressing with my coaching badges and will stay involved in the game for many years to come.
“I am grateful to Pat Fenlon and Shamrock Rovers for giving me the opportunity to finish my career back home — they have some exciting plans for the club for the future and I wish them well.
“I had hoped to play for one more year but it was not to be. Thank you to all the many fans for your support over the years. I would like to especially thank my wife Elaine, my children, my parents Gerard and Mary, and my family for being, and continuing to be, my biggest supporters.”
Paying tribute, FAI chief exective John Delaney said: “Damien Duff will rightly be remembered as one of the greatest footballers ever to wear an Ireland jersey, and I’m sure all Irish fans will join me in wishing Damien the very best wishes in his retirement. I remember him emerging as a young player and was delighted to see him go on to fulfil his tremendous potential.”
In England, Duff experienced top-flight football with Blackburn, Chelsea, Newcastle, and Fulham but it was as an eye-catching member of Brian Kerr’s successful underage teams and later as a senior international, thathe won the hearts of the nation.
His career high point in the green shirt was probably the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, when Mick McCarthy’s team picked themselves up from the pre-tournament turmoil of Saipan to put in a series of superb performances before their interest in the competition was ended by a dramatic penalty shoot-out after a titanic draw with Spain.
Although famously media-shy, Duff’s reluctance to put himself in front of the cameras or microphones belied a shrewd mind, a ready wit, and strongly held views, as those of us lucky enough to get him on an expansive day were always pleased to discover.
But, after family and friends, it was his devotion to football which mattered most to Duff, a truth of his life which must make it as hard for him to accept the end of his playing career, as it does for the innumerable supporters for whom the sight of ‘The Duffer’ in full, sinuous flow will forever be enshrined as one of Irish football’s most exciting and inspiring spectacles.
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