Shane Duffy keeps the faith on his road to redemption

The novelty of an audience for a visiting cast still learning their lines.

different collection of sounds as we tentatively tip-toe towards a resumption of normality.

Can it really just be ten months since Shane Duffy’s bulleted header marked the beginning of Stephen Kenny’s managerial reign which then seemed brimming with sweet innocent promise?

Duffy, too, must have felt for all the world that he was bound for a brighter future himself when, on the eve of that late night Sofia drama, he confirmed his switch on loan to Celtic.

He scored for them, too, on his first outing in the fabled colours but his Hoop dreams would slowly unravel at a club which, as even this week has confirmed, has spectacularly lost all sense of direction.

As his team subsided, so did his performance levels and even the once merciful escape to Ireland duty seemed like no such liberation at all, as the transition to a new style befuddled him more than any of Kenny’s slow-learning squad.

The football became no longer his friend, but his enemy.

Even though the Scottish stands could not accommodate the howls of abuse and angst, they nevertheless beat a remorseless path to his fingertips every time he keyed in the password to his phone, sickening taunts, some relating to the tragic early death of Brian, his father, thieved at just 53 early last summer.

In his solitary isolation in a locked-down Glasgow apartment, this life he once loved suddenly seemed like no life to be living at all. And yet he cannot give up the game he loves and thankfully it will not give him up either.

Derby County may offer him the comfort he needs should Brighton again deem him a surplus.

For now, re-establishing his relevance in Kenny’s vision for Ireland was paramount, after being omitted from recent key qualification games; as he gambolled in Andorra displaying his GAA prowess last week, it seemed as if several weights had been removed from once-heavy shoulders.

As one of those formidable limbs battered Attila Viola in the early moments, his deployment in defence – a back three this time, Kenny’s initially stoic intransigence in terms of systems clearly now a confirmed conceit – seemed less of a concession to hubris and more a tribute to Duffy’s stoic endurance.

The only jeers he heard were from the locals, loudly mimicking their English brethren as the visitors took to their knees, the Hungarians standing defiantly, captain Ádám Szalai pointing visibly to his armband which has the word ‘RESPECT’ emblazoned upon it.

“Everyone has their opinions,” mutters Duffy on a now toxic issue which has now further divided a game it was supposed to unite.

Another reminder, if it were needed for those who have also followed his personal turmoil, that the supposedly beautiful game spills over with so many ugly tidings; the comments attending his inclusion on social media also remind us that many have Irish accents, too.

After the jeers, the cheers alert all to the fact that Hungary are advancing to the Euro 2020 party that somehow eluded their visitors.

Nothing on the banks of the Danube betrays a pair of teams who will soon threaten the footballing order.

Duffy is part of a defence, predominantly deep-lying which suits him, who cope comfortably enough with timid threats; his passing, now precise and demandingly threaded through the line to Troy Parrott, or probing and diagonal from one wing to another is complemented by the occasional hoof.

And what of it? Better an instinct to avoid danger rather than unnecessarily invite it.

At the other end, his youthfully exuberant colleagues, Adam Idah and Parrott, resuming the promise of their European U-17 Championship appearance just three years ago, are also shackled with ease by the unruffled home defenders.

It reminds one of how experience must be hard-earned.

Ireland’s second-half subs inject vigour into the lifeless exercise, so too the hosts, who tie Duffy into a knot with a triangular play on the edge of the box but John Egan cleans up on the hour mark.

Duffy returns the favour by pulling across from his position on the right to clout Loïc Négo as Dara O’Shea’s momentarily abandons his patrol; a 60-yard pass to Idah shows that there are different ways to play even Kenny’s game.

Ireland are better when they play quicker and longer; then they can be expressive.

Idah also has a thunderous shot but the game threatened to peter out; that is to say if one had really ever threatened to peter in.

Caoimhín Kelleher’s busy hands are a delightful bonus; that they were so often required less so.

Duffy’s headers befit a desperate rearguard action, one to which he has become all too familiar with in recent times.

“I’m delighted to be back out playing football again,” he says, a smiling face where relief has erased so much grief.

“It’s about building this process. I’ve had a tough period and not been playing but thanks to the manager for giving me a game!”

A late wobble with the ball at his feet indicate that his recovery, and Ireland’s, remains painfully glacial.

His manager may have needed the win more than he did.

But as he greeted the handful of Irish supporters long after his team departed the field, handing them his sweat-stained jersey, you felt this was about more than the winning and losing of a game for Shane Duffy – RSS Feed