It’s not often that the great minds of the Irish management team and the Irish media think alike but such was the case this week when we asked Roy Keane for his thoughts on how Shane Duffy has progressed to the point where he is now widely regarded as the rock of the Irish defence and one of the most consistent centre-halves in the Premier League.
“It’s strange, we were just talking about it there with the manager watching the training, about how well he has done over the last few years,” Keane replied.
“I think I saw Shane three or four years ago when he was on loan at Yeovil, playing against Brighton. The fact he is playing most weeks in the Premiership now would be a huge help to him. He will improve but he has done really well considering where he was three years ago.
“I know you have to start somewhere - Everton, out on loan at Yeovil, getting his move to Blackburn, then the move to Brighton and you’re thinking, ‘they’ve got promoted, will they step up to the plate?’ Now he’s doing really well and Chris (Hughton) is looking after him there. It’s good to see any young Irish player stepping up to the plate and doing well.”
It’s a positive view shared by Duffy’s international team mates and one especially fresh in the mind of Harry Arter after the Derryman repelled everthing that Wales could throw at him as they bombarded the Irish box in their ultimately doomed bid to salvage World Cup qualification last month in Cardiff.
“I think that if a bus was coming at Shane Duffy he’d try to get his head on it,” Arter grins.
“It gives us confidence when defending set pieces: we have so much confidence in the lads and know they will throw themselves into anything. if the opposition does score from a set piece, it’s going to be an unbelievable header that our lads have just missed. It won’t be because of a lack of not going for it or a will to win.”
And that tenacity, he believes, is characteristic of the whole squad.
“It’s a mindset of the group and highlights the fact that everyone has different qualities in the back four when it comes to defending.
In attacking set pieces you can see that it’s clear that they will do anything to get a head on the ball. Midfielders-wise, we run ourselves into the ground.
If everyone does everything that they possibly can for the team then hopefully we can get results.”
Which is not always the case at football’s highest levels, according to the Bournemouth midfielder.
“Even the teams that do have superstars you sometimes wonder why they are not performing with those world class players,” he observes.
“If everyone is not on the same page, a lack of effort by one or two players gets highlighted and things can fall down so quickly. So it’s nice to be part of a real togetherness group and it’s similar at Bournemouth.”
Meanwhile Jeff Hendrick has handed Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill a major boost ahead of Saturday’s World Cup play-off clash with Denmark.
The 25-year-old Burnley midfielder was able to train with the rest of his team-mates yesterday before the squad headed to Copenhagen after previously working with the FAI’s medical team as he attempted to shake off a gluteal muscle injury.
He was joined on the training pitch by club-mate Stephen Ward, with the full-back having been rested as a precaution earlier in the week.
An FAI spokesman said: “Both Stephen Ward and Jeff Hendrick, who had undergone specialised training sessions with FAI medical staff in previous days, came through the session without any problems.”
Hendrick’s presence among the travelling party was all the more welcome because of the absence of David Meyler through suspension for the first leg and James McCarthy with a hamstring problem. Meyler captained his country to the 1-0 victory in Wales last month which booked their place in the play-offs, but picked up his second booking of the campaign along the way.
Two more familiar faces linked up with the squad before their departure from Dublin, with skipper Seamus Coleman and Jonathan Walters joining up ahead of a double-header which will determine Ireland’s presence or otherwise at the finals in Russia next summer.
Coleman is back in training after his recovery from the double leg fracture he suffered during the qualifying draw with Wales in March, while Walters is working his way back from a knee injury which has sidelined him since the beginning of September.
PaperTalk Extra: Who will want the ball in Copenhagen?
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