There are still beads of sweat on his brow after a 90-minute training session in the Mediterranean sun but it’s the snow of last weekend which is on Shane Duffy’s mind as he relates the saga of how he was unable to pick up his FAI Senior Player of the Year Award in Dublin on Sunday.
“Yeah, two flights got cancelled from Manchester so we got taxis to Birmingham and then that was delayed until 11.30,” he says, shaking his head.
“I was a bit gutted over it but I didn’t have to do the speaking so it was alright (laughs).”
He hadn’t been told in advance that he was going to win and, while stranded at the airport, was in the middle of a game of cards with David Meyler when he learned the news via a text from Seamus Coleman at the RTÉ studios.
“I didn’t expect it, I was more shell-shocked than anything,” he says. “I thought maybe for young player I had a chance but I thought James (McClean) had it wrapped up. It was obviously a nice moment for me and, yeah, I’m delighted.
“James was raging, to be fair! Nah, I’m just joking. I thought he deserved it. James was the main man and he scored the big goals and he was very unlucky not to win it. James would have got my vote.
“He’s been superb, not just for two years, but for four years for Ireland. He was unlucky not to get the award but I’m sure he’ll he’ll clean up next year.”
With an influx of new faces in the Irish squad, the 26-year-old Duffy has rapidly attained something like senior status, though it still came as a bit of a surprise to on-lookers when, during target practice this week, the sky-scrapping centre-half was heard reprimanding Roy Keane for giving him “a shit pass”.
“I nearly forgot who I was speaking to when I said it,” he laughs. “It’s just being comfortable. He gives it to me and I shot over that training ground fence there...”
You took your point GAA-style?
“Yeah, exactly (laughs). I was just clearing out of defence, to be fair. But he’s good with me, good with everyone and it’s great you can have a bit of banter.”
His Brighton manager Chris Hughton has said that Duffy is as good as any centre-back out there — has he been surprised by the pace of his own development?
“It’s just down to believing in myself,” he suggests. “Getting the chance to play at a good level helps. Chris has given me the chance to play in the Premier League and Martin (O’Neill) has given me the chance to play on the big stages and in a big tournament.
“You take little things out of each one of them and it’s all coming together a bit now and hopefully there is more to come.
“I’m still a bit raw in some things I do but I’m getting better.
“It’s down to playing more games. I went down to the lower leagues and learned my trade. When I played at Everton the first time I was purely raw, I’d just come out of Derry. I was shaking when I was playing. For the first five minutes you don’t even want the ball. When you get your first header you feel better about it all, but the first five minutes you’re thinking about everything, where you are positioned, and looking around everywhere.
“Now, I’m just calm, I feel like I belong. It’s a nice feeling to go out knowing you can compete with those kinds of players and feel comfortable.”
Not that it’s been all plain-sailing, of course. He’s had the downs as well as the ups, from his red card against France at the Euros to, of recent painful memory, Ireland’s bruising exit from the World Cup at the hands of Denmark, after Duffy’s early goal had appeared to set the home side on the road to victory.
Has he ever experienced another 90 minutes remotely like it? “I haven’t. For the first 10 minutes I thought I was a hero and then I was a villain — all of us were. But those are the games you look back on and think, ‘that will make me a better player, I’ll know how to deal with that next time’. You try to make sure things like that don’t happen again. It’s one of them lows you have in football, and I’ve had a few, such as the France game. But you come back from it. Denmark was a low and I’ve come back. You need to make mistakes in life.
“But it was a tough night. It still is. Even now, talking about it with the lads, we just shake our heads. Then you’re watching other teams getting their new kits for the World Cup and things like that, while we’re playing friendlies. Will I watch the finals? Of course, I’m a football man. You just wish you were there. We’ve just got to make sure we’re at the Euros now.”
Duffy’s emergence as a Premier League regular and first-choice international footballer is all the more remarkable, of course, because he came so close to losing his life after suffering a laceration of the liver during a freak training ground accident while on Irish duty in Dublin in May, 2010. It was a defining moment for the then 18-year-old which Seamus Coleman brought up after Duffy won his Player of the Year award.
“Seamus actually said to me, ‘you would never believe that you have gone from there to now and you won that’,” says Duffy. “He always reminds me of that. But it doesn’t come into my head ever, not really. I don’t think I can let it.”
But does he think that having survived such a traumatic experience has helped him cope better with what, by comparison, would be the far more routine setbacks which football has sent his way?
“I don’t know, I might do it naturally but I don’t actually think about it. I know I’ve had so many lows, it can’t get any worse, sort of. I just think, ‘pick yourself up, come on, and just go again’. That’s what I do when I have a low. I can’t play well every week or every game for Ireland so when I do have a bad one, I just pick myself up and think, it could be worse, you could not be playing here.
“I’ve just got to be lucky and that’s how I think.”
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