Euro 2012 Man of the Day: Damien Duff
There wasn’t a whole lot of good news coming out of Poland yesterday, so centurion Damien Duff gets the nod because we might not see him again.
Last night, before the game, RTE did a small montage piece on the career of Damien Duff. From the skinny young fella who starred at the Under 20 World Championship in 1997, through his goal and celebration at World Cup 2002 all the way through to his role as elder statesman and captain last night against Italy. It was a reminder of just how long the Dubliner has been part of our lives as Ireland fans.
There may not be an Irish soccer player more universally loved by those who follow the team than Duff. Robbie Keane has lots and lots of critics, despite his goal record. Shay Given has always had his detractors, and that cohort is growing rapidly these days. Richard Dunne is well respected now but early in his career many queried him. But Duff was never picked on, by fan or press.
Maybe it was because he very rarely spoke to the pesky fourth estate. Maybe it was because of the hundreds of stories of people who met him around Dublin during summers or other down time, all of whom spoke of how decent and sound he was. Maybe he just never gave us a reason to doubt him.
On the pitch his busy feet and world-class ability to draw frees always earned the crowds respect and he never gave less than 100 per cent in the green shirt, even on the darkest of days for the Irish team.
While Keith Andrews earns the dubious title of Irish player of the tournament, even with the ignominious end to it he endured last night, Duff was not far off his normal level in Poland. True, he never really got to the touchline, or even whipped in a really killer ball, but he never stopped working and hoping and trying.
Last night he was one of the better Irish players on show, always available for the ball and always attempting to make something happen. But the real reason he gets the nod today is because we fear we won’t see him in the green again.
For Duff's 100th cap, Robbie Keane handed over the captain’s armband for the night. Duff squirmed under the spotlight of cameras at the pre-match press conference, uncomfortable as always with the focus being on him. Despite all the success he has had, including being that rarest of things apart from John O’Shea, an Irish Premier League winner, Duff remains exactly the same as he was when he was playing for Brian Kerr as a kid.
At 33, Duff’s time at international might be up. One thing we are blessed with in Ireland are a surfeit of wide players and the arrival of James McClean may soften the blow of losing the Ballyboden man a little. But if McClean can worm his way into Irish hearts to even half the extent that Duffer has then he will have had a fine career.
If this is the end, cheers Damien, thanks a million for all the memories and smiles you gave us on the pitch. And if you do decide to have one more spin on the international circuit, we would be delighted to have you along for the ride.