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Irish Football > Irish Players > Damien Duff

Damien Duff - Irish Football Great

Damien Duff playing for Ireland against Brazil
Damien Duff - Ireland V Brazil

Damien Duff - Introduction

Damien Duff, Irish soccer great, grew up in Ballyboden, Dublin, watching the Irish International soccer team during the Jack Charlton era. This was a golden age for soccer in Ireland. Charlton was the first Irish manager to qualify the senior team for the finals of a major football championship. Following this qualification for the 1988 Euro Finals, Charlton led the team to qualification for the 1990 World Cup Finals and the 1994 World Cup Finals. Damien Duff was inspired and influence by great Irish footballers of the era such as Kevin Sheedy, Paul McGrath, Kevin Moran, and John Aldridge. This inspiration produced one of the most naturally talented Irish players of his generation.

Damien Duff - the Early Years

Duff was absolutely mad about football. Not content to just kick about on the road or the local green space, at the age of nine he decided to join the south Dublin football club Leicester Celtic. Because of pressure from his school he gave up soccer in favour of rugby for a period. He could not avoid the lure of soccer however and decided to join Crumlin club Lourdes Celtic. Damien Duff finished his schoolboy soccer career with the famous northside Dublin football club St Kevin's Boys who also nurtured Irish football internationals Liam Brady and Stephen Carr.

It was apparent to anyone that saw him play as a schoolboy that Damien Duff was a true footballing talent. At a very young age Duff was able to dribble and drift past opponents almost at will. He had a terrific burst of pace and was a very good crosser of the ball. His talent attracted a lot of attention from the Irish soccer scouts of English professional football clubs. The Bray Wanders manager, Pat Devlin, was Blackburn Rovers' representative in Ireland and he persuaded Duff to sign for the English outfit.

Duff and Blackburn Rovers

The former Celtic and Liverpool FC great, Kenny Dalglish, was the manager of Blackburn at the time and for the young Damien Duff this was a dream come true. The thrill of being managed by the great Scot really helped the youngster to settle in with the club. Somewhat strangely Duff was beset by a bout of homesickness in his second year in Blackburn The then manager Ray Harford and the youth team manager, Alan Irvine, handled the situation sensitively and brought Duff's family over to Blackburn for a short period to help ease away Duff's homesick blues.

The Blackburn management new that they had a gem. From the moment he arrived Damien impressed all of those that saw him especially with his ability to beat opposing players, his pace, and his crossing ability. On occasions he was compared with that other great Irish footballing wizard George Best. Under the guidance of Scot Alan Irvine, Duff made rapid progress and also picked up the nickname Duffer. In Duff's own words "I think the Scots throw an 'er' at the end of names. So he started it and I think everyone in football, even my family, call me Duffer"

Duffer Debut Anything but Duff

Duffer made his Blackburn first team debut in May 1997 against Leicester City at just 18 years of age. The club was involved in a battle to avoid relegation from the Premiership. Caretaker manager Tony Parkes rang Duff, who was in Dublin on a break at the time, to ask him to get back to the club as the young Irishman would be in the squad for the Leicester match. Duff's parents returned to Blackburn with Damien only half hoping that the youngster might get on as a late substitute.

An hour before kickoff Parkes announced the starting team and the name Damien Duff was on it. While the result didn't go his way, the visiting team winning 4-2, the young Irish soccer star was voted Man of the Match. Despite the defeat Blackburn avoided relegation. Duff could look forward to Premiership football in the following season.

Duff Transfer Record

The 2002 World Cup Finals showed the greater soccer community what a prodigious talent Blackburn Rovers had. In the following Premiership season Duff's performances helped Blackburn to qualify for the UEFA cup. Constant transfer rumours followed Duff around and he was repeatedly linked with moves to Manchester United and Liverpool. Despite this speculation it was Jose Mourinho's Chelsea who stumped up £17 million to take Damien Duff to Chelsea. This was a record transfer fee ever paid for an Irish soccer player. Duff was now at a club that could offer him the highest European stage - the Champions League - to display his talents. Also he was now surrounded by high quality players such as Frank Lampard, Hernan Crespo, Claude Makelele, Marcel Desailly, and John Terry.

Damien Duff - Irish International Footballer

Following hard on the heels of his senior club debut Duff was selected for the Under-20s World Cup Finals squad by Irish team manager Brian Kerr. Although a couple of years younger than most of the squad Damien had impressed Kerr enough to earn inclusion in the panel bound for Malaysia. The 18 year old performed admirably and made history by scoring the first ever golden goal in a World Cup match. The opposition for this historic soccer moment was Morocco. The Republic of Ireland achieved their best ever result in World soccer when they took the bronze medal in the tournament.

In the following March Damien Duff won his first senior cap when Ireland played the Czech Republic away from home. Ireland lost one goal to nil but Duff acquitted himself very well in the match. Robbie Keane and Mark Kinsella also made their debuts for the senior international team in the same match. The three debutantes went on to figure very prominently in the following qualifications campaigns for manager Mick McCarthy. Under McCarthy Duff played on the wings and up front as a striker due to his knack of scoring important goals.

Duff went on to become a crucial part of the Irish soccer team. He produced many outstanding performances during the qualification campaign for the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan and South Korea. None more so than at Lansdowne Road (now Aviva Stadium) against the star-studded Dutch team in September 2001 where he tore into the Dutch defense time and time again. Duff really set the scene for his debut appearance in the World Cup in a pre-tournament friendly against Denmark in March 2002. Operating on the right wing in a Man of the Match performance he inspired the Republic team to a sparkling 3-0 victory

Duff at the World Cup 2002

The soccer World really woke up to Damien Duff's footballing ability following his performances in the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan and Korea. Despite the angst and anguish that surrounded the Irish soccer camp, due to the Roy Keane / Saipan affair, Duff emerged from that tournament with his football reputation significantly enhanced. His superb performances were crowned by a goal against Saudi Arabia. Although the goal will hardly go down as one of his best his celebration was replayed time and again. His oriental-type bow was perfectly executed as though it had been rehearsed many times. Although he admits that he gave it thought in advance Damien swears that he did not practice the bow.

For Duff perhaps the biggest regret of his international soccer career is that Ireland failed to beat 10-man Spain thereby missing out on a quarter final spot. Despite yet another Man of the Match performance Duff declined to take one of the penalties in the shoot-out that went the way of the Spanish. When it comes to penalties, in Duff's own words, "I'm brutal at them...".

Damien Duff - 2012 Euro Finals

Participation at the Euros was one major glaring gap on Duff's international CV. It was an ambition that was realised when his performances in the Euro 2012 qualifiers contributed to Ireland's qualification for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Unfortunately for Duff and Ireland it proved to be a bittersweet experience as Ithe Irish were comprehensively beaten by Croatia, Spain and Italy. Despite wholehearted performances by the Ballyboden man Ireland failed to make any meaningful impact at the Euro 2012 finals. Sterile tactics by Irish football manager Giovanni Trapattoni and poor form by many Irish players saw to that. Notably Duff did capatain his country for the one and only time on the occasion of his 100th cap in the third group match against Italy. Unfortunately for duff he ended up on the losing side as the Italians triumphed 2-0. Shortly after Euro 2012 Damien Duff announced his retirement from international football.

Despite his reluctance to take penalties there is no doubt that Damien Duff, with 100 Irish caps to his name, is one of the great Irish soccer players to ever play for the Republic of Ireland.

References :

Damien Duff: The Biography; Joel Miller (2007); John Blake Publishing Ltd
Ireland's Soccer Top 20; Colm Keane (2004); Mainstream Publishing (Edinburgh) Ltd
Damien Duff Wikipedia Entry

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