Shane Duffy has admitted for the first time how losing his place as Brighton’s first choice defender left him wondering whether would need to ‘re-think’ his career to ensure he didn’t suffer the same fate with Ireland, before eventually finding the inner strength to respond.
With the Republic braced for a Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia, and the prospect of home matches in Dublin during the tournament if all goes well, this was meant to be a stand-out season for the popular centre-half who has been, for years, one of the first names on the team-sheet for both club and country. But as the Derry-born star, 28, prepares to face Aston Villa in the Premier League today, he admits it hasn’t quite gone to plan.
When he signed a new five-year contract in October 2018, Duffy’s partnership with Lewis Dunk was heralded as one of the best in England – and it seemed the duo would be the backbone of Brighton’s side long into the future. But then Republic legend Chris Hughton was sacked as manager at the Amex and replaced by Graham Potter, a coach with a different style and a different vision of how to play out from the back.
Having been played, uncomfortably it seemed, on the right of a three early in the campaign, Duffy eventually found himself left out, with Dan Burn and Adam Webster chosen ahead of him.
Injuries, including a niggling groin problem which still persists, have exacerbated the situation; but a return to the line-up since Christmas marks a turning point – just in time to avoid the need for a move in the January transfer window.
“You don’t just give up because someone says you’re not playing every week,” insisted Duffy when asked if he might need to leave Brighton, the club he joined in 2016. “Instead, I’ve had that mentality of ‘keep fighting, keep going and keep trying to get back in the team’.
“I love it here. If there was a time where the manager didn’t want me, then I’d have to think about it. But he doesn’t say that. He says I’m still important and still have a part to play. I’ve got things to worry about with Ireland, but at the minute I’m quite happy here.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that there haven’t been low points which have challenged the positivity even of a character as vibrant and upbeat as Duffy – especially with those Euro 2020 play-offs looming.
Duffy, who captained the Republic against Denmark last November in the absence of Seamus Coleman, said: “I won’t shy away from that. I do feel I need to play every week to get the best out of me – and the best of me helps Ireland, too. It has been in the back of my mind and there have been times when I’ve not been playing for a few weeks where it’s been difficult. You get low points and you re-think everything.
“But I’ve got a good manager here and good team-mates who keep me positive. I could easily have been down and been this bad person who makes everyone else feel down. But it’s not about me, it’s about this club and I’ve got to think about what they’ve done for me, too.”
It was in those low moments that people inside Brighton, away from the limelight, saw the best of Duffy’s character.
“Even when I’m on the bench, I’m still cheering and still want the best for this team,” he insisted.
You suspect the ‘same old me’ is more than good enough for Mick McCarthy. Duffy insists he is no shoo-in for the Republic squad, but he has not felt it necessary to talk to his international manager in person and there has been no suggestion from anyone that his place is in doubt.
“We’ve had no conversations yet. It will be closer to the time,” the former Everton man said. “I have just got to try to do whatever I can here and hopefully it’s still good enough to be involved.”