Football/Soccer

Republic of Ireland defender Shane Duffy ready to come back bigger and stronger

Republic of Ireland's Shane Duffy claimed a man of the match display against Hungary after a difficult season

REPUBLIC of Ireland defender Shane Duffy plans to come back better than ever next season after a disastrous loan spell with Celtic – and feels the Green Army has turned a corner under boss Stephen Kenny.

Brighton man Duffy, whose loan deal with the Scottish Premiership giants was cut short before the end of the season, says he’s “big and ugly enough” to accept the criticism that has come his way.

Despite his long lay-off, the 29-year-old Derryman came storming back to claim man-of-the-match in Ireland’s scoreless draw with Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday night.

Playing on the right side of a back three, Duffy played with a calm assurance and was always a threat in the opposition penalty area from set pieces.

The popular Ireland defender lost his father last year and had to contend with various off-field issues, including vicious social media abuse, that clearly had an unsettling effect.

“It’s been very difficult,” said Duffy.

“I think it has been well noted I’ve had a tough time on and off the pitch. I feel that I’ve dealt with it as best I can. I didn’t plan for it to go like this but that’s the setback I’ve got, and I’m big and ugly enough to deal with it and come out the other side.

“This season is over now and I feel mentally I’ve turned a page, and I’m not going to stop now. I’m going to keep going through the summer and be ready for pre-season and hit the ground running. I feel I’ve had a year off, where I haven’t played my best stuff and I am ready to get that back next season.”

His international manager Stephen Kenny offered stout defences of Duffy over the past season and showed tremendous loyalty to him in Budapest on Tuesday evening.

“We have a great relationship and everyone in the squad has that relationship [with Kenny], where you can sit down and talk to him about anything and he’s always there for you.

“[But] It’s never been about me, it’s been about the team and I am just trying to do my best, whether it’s on the pitch or off the pitch I feel I can bring a lot to the squad,” he said.

“I am grateful to the manager for picking me, I haven’t played football since February, so even to be in the squad I’m grateful for that. I’m lucky, and it’s nice to be back on the pitch playing football - there is no better feeling. And to get a positive result, everyone knows Hungary are going to the Euros and it was a tough test with all their fans back in, so I think we can take a lot of positives.”

After claiming their first win under Kenny - a 4-1 victory over Andorra last Thursday night – and holding one of the Euro 2020 finalists scoreless on their home patch, Duffy feels progress is being made under Kenny and cited several “unlucky situations” the Irish squad has found itself in over the last season with several camps wrecked by COVID.

“It was probably the best 10 days in a long time that we had together,” Duffy said.

“We really bonded and got to do a lot more things together than what we have since Stephen took charge. But I think you can see it on the pitch that everyone is really together and we're all pushing in the same direction.

“We've had a lot of unlucky situations over the last year or so but hopefully we can turn a corner and push on and get a few more lads back and kick on.”

He added: “We feel we've not really got what we deserved but that's football. We know we have to get better and we know we have to get results in the qualification games. We got off to a bad start, so there's a lot to do but these 10 days together feels like we're turning a corner.”

Ireland will try to rebuild their faltering 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign against Portugal (a), Azerbaijan (h) and Serbia (h) in early September.

They’ve lost their two openers to Serbia and Luxembourg.

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Football/Soccer