Shane Duffy: ‘I think everyone with eyes can see the progression we are making’

Duffy delighted for Kenny as players finally repay the manager’s faith in their ability

Blind faith in the Stephen Kenny project was never going to suffice.

A 3-0 ransacking of Azerbaijan in their cavernous, practically empty Olympic stadium ensures that Kenny's kids, a team that truly represents modern Ireland, is growing up before our eyes.

Even the non-believers would struggle to disagree.

Shane Duffy knows wisdom when he sees it, even in teenage form, after another colossal performance from the resolute defender.


Duffy had all the answers on Saturday night in Baku. On the two-goal, vaccine-free Callum Robinson, the Derry giant solidified the Ireland squad's party line.

“Listen, it’s his decision [not to be vaccinated],” said Duffy. “We’re all players, we’re all normal people as well, we’ve all our own rights to do what we want to do. Callum is a lively lad, nothing really affects Callum. You can see it in his performance. He’s a big character around the team, around the dressing-room and we don’t need to [rally] around him. He knows it. His performance summed it all up.”

As Ireland secured a first clean sheet of this World Cup qualifying campaign, Duffy and Gavin Bazunu proved impregnable sentries at the gate.

“Gavin is a wise man, so mature for his age that you wouldn’t believe it. An unbelievable goalkeeper, he’s like Superman sometimes in training because you can’t score past him.

“For me it breeds confidence. You need to build a relationship with your goalkeeper and the first thing you need is trust. I trust him with my life.

“We’re blessed in that position really for years to come. We’ve had great goalkeepers for decades so I’m hoping Caoimhín [Kelleher], Trav [Mark Travers] and Gavin all push each other. Whoever plays, I’d trust them all.”

The 29-year-old Brighton defender has suffered as much as any Irish person during the past 18 months. The lockdown got under his skin during too many lonely nights in a Glasgow apartment while mourning the passing of his father Brian.

Back in March, life had taken a dark turn as Kenny called him into the squad to drop him face-to-face. A disastrous loan move to Celtic ran its course, the Premier League was motoring on without him and he was no longer the beating heart of Ireland's defence.

Tough time

“It was the right decision [by Kenny] because I was nowhere near the level that I can show. A blind man could have seen that I was nowhere near where I had been at. I was having a tough time in life, on the pitch and off the pitch.

“He still brought me into the squad to be around the lads to help if I could even if I was not playing. I accepted that. You have to play well to play for your country. I went away in the summer and got my head down, hit the reset button and went from there.”

Few players find their way back after being cut loose by a Premier League manager like Graham Potter.

“No, if I’m being honest, I didn’t think that I could. But the character that I am, I never say never. Unless someone throws me out the door then I’ll never give up. I was still in the building so I had a chance to prove to the manager that I had changed and that I was working hard for him and that I would do anything that he wanted me to do.

“I got a bit of luck with Covid and a few injuries during pre-season. You need that in football. I took my chance from there and obviously I have started the season really well.”

Such overdue luck and resilience bleeds into this young group now. Duffy was offering so much insight that nobody mentioned his inability to put a routine header in the Azerbaijani net. He only delivers when Ireland needs him most and, sure, why ruin Chiedozie Ogbene’s 90th minute dream-come-true moment.

“When I scored my first goal it was overwhelming,” said Ogbene. “I made a lot of sacrifices. There is my family, my friends, but I owe it to the gaffer for believing in me.”

Ogbene reminded everyone to enjoy this rare win, 3,000 miles from home, as such dominance displays only comes along once every decade. Perhaps old patterns will be snapped next month in Luxembourg.

“I think everyone with eyes can see the progression we are making,” Duffy added. “I am delighted for Stephen, seeing the work he is doing behind the scenes. It is up to us as players to get results and we haven’t been doing that.”

Until now.

“Hopefully we can push on from here on Tuesday.”

The manner of victory might swell the attendance against Qatar, and their wildly contrasting project, with the FAI convinced that Portugal's visit to the Aviva Stadium on November 11th is a guaranteed sell-out, providing the Government lifts restrictions before Cristiano Ronaldo can expose that bronze torso again.

Even the non-believers won’t want to miss that spectacle.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent