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'It was soul searching, maybe a mid-life crisis. Am I fearful? Absolutely. But I'll give my life to them'

Damien Duff turned down the Shelbourne job while drinking red wine on holiday in the south of France, but after a change of heart he is ready to give his all for the Tolka Park club.

New Shelbourne head coach Damien Duff.
New Shelbourne head coach Damien Duff.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Updated Nov 3rd 2021, 3:11 PM

DAMIEN DUFF HAS revealed how he turned down taking the Shelbourne job while drinking red wine on holiday in the south of France.

And it was only after the club’s board urged him to reconsider that he realised he needed to practice what he has preached to the club’s U17 players by showing bravery to take his first step in senior management.

The former Republic of Ireland international and two-time Premier League winner with Chelsea has signed a 24-month contract at Tolka Park but initially rebuffed approaches from the club’s hierarchy after they parted company with boss Ian Morris, who had secured promotion back to the Premier Division for next season.

“It was just soul searching with me, probably a midlife crisis,” Duff said. “People keep telling me I need to come up with a plan, I had been home for 18 months. I didn’t have a plan, absolutely did not.

“All I know is I love football, I love coaching, and I love helping and improving players. I would be unhappy with myself if I said no and turned it down. It’s as simple as that.

“Why did I say no? Probably because I was in the south of France drinking red wine, I was on my holidays. Listen, there were two reasons. One, I like my life, I like to go away with the kids and have my own time. Secondly, it’s totally out of the comfort zone stuff.

“Am I scared? Absolutely. Do I feel uncomfortable? Absolutely. But I’ve been preaching to kids since day one, my own two kids, the U15s at Shamrock Rovers, the U17s at Shels, about showing personality, about showing courage which they can lack at times.

For me to say no on Friday, I was lacking courage. I was lacking personality. So over the weekend, the board asked me to reconsider, and I did. That was soul searching. That’s why I said no, for those two reasons alone. I like my holidays and I was fearful of what I was getting into it. I can’t preach to kids or coach the kids, whether it be men, women or children, and then turn it down. So that’s why I’m here.”

Duff ended his playing career with Rovers before taking charge of their U15 side and then moving to Celtic, where he began in the academy before being promoted to work with the first team.

The 42-year-old was then named in Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny’s coaching ticket but left in dramatic circumstances after the FAI initiated an investigation into the video and speech used by Kenny in the dressing room at Wembley prior to a friendly with England last year.

Duff felt his position was untenable as a result of the frivolous fallout and returned to coaching duties with Shelbourne’s U17s.

This has led to suggestions of the Dubliner being restless, a trait he accepts but is adamant doesn’t mean he is uncommitted to any role he takes on.

stephen-kenny-speak-with-damien-duff Duff with Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“My ambitions are sky high but if I’m realistic, where Shels are at… they’ve been yo-yoing for a couple of years. They’re a sleeping giant but they have to stay in the league. The board have been amazing to me, they’ve assured me worst case if we went down, that ‘Damien Duff is building something special here’.

“It’s an absolute sleeping giant. Believe it or not, Tolka Park is a special place in my life because of the days I had with Brian Kerr there. Even walking on the pitch a couple of weeks ago with my U17s team in the semi-final against Galway, it brought those days back.

“I’m emotional, that tugs at my heart strings. It didn’t help when my son Woody walked in last week with a Shels jersey on. Stuff like that gets me. I kind of confronted him so I asked him where he got it? He said ‘I bought it Daddy’. That tugged at me. I thought ‘I’m going to have to do this’.

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“Absolutely, I am incredibly restless,” Duff added. “I am incredibly impatient. You can ask anyone that I’ve worked with. The Shelbourne boys — I’m probably too hard on them because I want it right now for them. I want them to have careers. But I think too much, I thought about everything. I don’t know how you prove longevity or commitment to a club.

I was with Shamrock Rovers as a player and then as a coach for 18 months. I dedicated my life to kids with Shamrock Rovers for 18 months. It’s never mentioned. I got stick for training at 6am in the morning and bringing them back out at 6pm at night. I’d like to think they were the best days of those kids’ careers so far. I probably saw those kids more than my own.

“I can’t prove longevity by saying no to Celtic. If Celtic come and ask me to leave Shamrock Rovers U15s, everyone in this room would take it. So I went to Celtic, I had an amazing time there. If I go back there tomorrow, I’d be welcomed back with open arms. I built some amazing, amazing relationship with special people.

“But when your wife and kids are back home and your son and daughter are asking ‘Daddy, forget about 8, 9 or 10. We just want you home’. So I came home. I went to the Irish coaching gig and, again, as I touched on, I would have been unhappy with myself so I’m not going to get into that today. I’d like to think everyone in this room would have left the gig when I did.

damien-duff Damien Duff at his unveiling in Dublin. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve dedicated my life to it. Longevity or impatient or always jumping ship. I actually don’t when you strip it back. I’m incredibly dedicated, I dedicate my life to players. I’m still in touch with Celtic players, I’m still in touch with Shamrock Rovers U15 players, for help, for guidance on and off the pitch.

“I tell the Shelbourne U17 players that now, on and off the pitch I’m there until the day I die, ’til the day they die. If I bump into them on the street in 20 years’ time… I will be exactly the same with the senior players next season, whoever they are. So I knew I would be asked, but I think it needed to be addressed. To say I jump here there and everywhere. I’m not. When I’m with players, they get the whole of Damien Duff. I give my life to them.”

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