Damien Duff wants Aiden McGeady to shrug off a disappointing season at club level and light up the European Championships.
The Everton winger has endured a nightmare 12 months, dropping out of favour with the Toffees and Ireland, before going on loan to Sheffield Wednesday where he played no part in their Championship play-off final defeat to Hull City.
The ex-Celtic star moved to Sheffield to keep his Euro hopes alive, and he was included in Martin O’Neill’s final 23-man squad despite barely playing, and failing to impress against Belarus on Tuesday night.
McGeady looked to have rediscovered his best form in the early days of O’Neill’s reign, but he’s failed to hit the heights since, with his last competitive start coming in March 2015, in the 1-1 draw with Poland in Dublin.
Robbie Brady, James McClean and Jeff Hendrick have edged ahead of him, but Duff hopes the 30-year-old can find his best form at just the right time.
“I guess the one person I’d like to go see light it up, as well as Robbie [Keane], is McGeady,” said Duff.
“I just think he’s got amazing talent, I don’t know what’s gone on with Sheffield Wednesday this year, for me he should have been lighting up the Championship.
“I don’t know if it’s injury problems, or he didn’t fit with the manager or what, but I’d love to see him go and do well, his ability is a dying breed. I love him to bits. Even in training every day, I thought I could dribble until I saw this kid, he’s just on another planet.
“I guess it’s about transforming it into games. He’s had injury problems, moving clubs... he’s the one player who gets people off their seats, and me being a winger I’d love to see him do well.
“I don’t think it’s a confidence problem, any time I’ve been with him — and that’s a few years — he’s been a confident boy.”
Some trademark McGeady trickery earned a huge roar in the early part of Tuesday’s friendly defeat to Belarus in Turner’s Cross, but those cheers turned to groans in the second half as he misplaces passes and lost possession in good positions.
But Duff, working as a pundit on RTÉ for this summer’s Euros, says the former Spartak Moscow flyer can deal with the criticism.
“Listen, I’m part of the winger’s union, we get an awful lot of stick over the years,” he said. “I met Eamon [Dunphy] there for the first time in ages.
“He probably hammered me a good few times over the years, but you just have to move on. Aiden’s got thick skin, he’s got broad shoulders, the one thing I love about him is if he loses it, he goes again, he doesn’t go into his shell.
“Confidence isn’t a problem, ability isn’t, I just hope he’s fit and sharp enough to get in the team, obviously Martin wants him in the team.”
Duff is clearly a big fan and a good friend of McGeady’s, and it’s that kind of relationship with his former team mates that ensured he’d steer clear of commenting on Ireland games live on TV.
“It’s a difficult one, when you’ve been to war, part of a group, and you have that tight knit thing going on, even if someone I played with had a disaster I couldn’t [hammer them], because I’ve been to hell and back with them, so I’m loyal to them.
“You build a friendship up over 20, 25 years — if anybody asked me to speak bad of Robbie, it’s not gonna happen. You can call it sitting on a fence, I just call it being a proper mate, being loyal — why would you ruin such a good friendship, so I don’t want to do Irish games.”
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