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'Everyone with eyes can see the progression' - Duffy says win should end noise around Kenny's position

The defender also gave an honest insight into how he’s making the most of his second chance after the miseries of last season.

Shane Duffy and Stephen Kenny embrace at full-time in Baku.
Shane Duffy and Stephen Kenny embrace at full-time in Baku.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

BLESSED ARE THOSE who cannot see and yet believe, and all that, but the Stephen Kenny era this weekend became less rooted in merely preaching the good word by instead delivering something more tangible: a first competitive win of his era.

“I think everyone with eyes can see the progression we’re making”, said Shane Duffy after the 3-0 win against Azerbaijan in Baku. “I know the results aren’t there but you can see we’re trying to play the right football and we’re getting there.”

Callum Robinson’s first-half brace and Chiedozie Ogbene’s late header secured Ireland what was their most comprehensive competitive win in six years, and Duffy first declared himself happy for his manager. 

“I’m delighted for him first and foremost, because of the work he puts in behind the scenes and what he’s trying to get across, especially with the backroom staff as well. At the end of the day it’s up to us as players to go out and get results and we haven’t been doing that. We can see progression in the team and it’s a result for him.”

It’s also a notable result for Ireland’s younger players: this was the first time Gavin Bazunu, Andrew Omobamidele, Troy Parrott, Josh Cullen, Jamie McGrath, Chiedozie Ogbene and Adam Idah have been part of a competitive victory at senior international level. 

“When I first came in we were winning big games and that helps you along the way”, said Duffy. “It’s massive for them, to understand there are no easy games in international football whoever you play. There were spells in the first half especially tonight where we were under it a little bit but you have to bang through them.

“To win a World Cup qualifier is tough and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s for them to take that in and push through and know the hard work that it takes to win a football game at this level.” 

Of all of the young players thrown into the fray by Kenny, none have thrived better than Gavin Bazunu, who is already Ireland’s undisputed number one before he leaves his teens. He wasn’t as busy in Baku as he was against Serbia a month ago, but he did come to Ireland’s rescue in the second half by flicking a fierce Garayov drive onto the crossbar. 

When asked to discuss Bazunu, Duffy initially laughed in a kind of disbelief. “Yeah…he’s unreal, isn’t he? I think we’re really blessed with the three goalkeepers we have.

“You should actually see Gavin in training, he’s unbelievable. Gavin is a wise man, so mature for his age that you wouldn’t believe it. An unbelievable goalkeeper, he’s like Superman sometimes in training because you can’t score past him. For me it breeds confidence.

“You need to build a relationship with your goalkeeper and the first thing you need is trust. I trust him with my life.”

Bazunu and the Irish back three embraced on the full-time whistle, with the game’s closing act a last-ditch Duffy block to secure Ireland a first clean sheet of the campaign. Duffy said part of the desire to shut out Azerbaijan at the weekend came from the pain of conceding a set-piece goal against Serbia. 

“We wanted to get a clean sheet. It’s important, especially for Gavin. For myself too. It’s important for defenders to come away because sometimes we don’t get the credit we deserve from performances! To go away in a World Cup qualifier and get a clean sheet, it was something we were determined to get in the end.”

shane-duffy-reacts-to-a-missed-chance Duffy reacts to a missed chance against Azerbaijan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Duffy won all nine of his aerial duels and was excellent at the heart of the Irish back three, the latest milestone of a player back to his best after the miseries of last season. His loan move to Celtic curdled into a disaster and he lost his place in the Irish team for the March internationals. 

“It was the right decision because I was nowhere near the level that I can show”, said Duffy of his omission. “A blind man could have seen that I was nowhere near where I had been at. I had a tough time in life, on the pitch and off the pitch.

“He still brought me into the squad to be around the lads to help if I could even if I was not playing. I accepted that. You have to play well to play for your country so that was the right decision. I went away in the summer and got my head down, hit the reset button and went from there.

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“I said that I’d give it one big chance again. I’m getting to the age where it’s the latter end of my career, so I wanted to give it a big crack and see where it took me. I had no expectation where I was going to be at club level but I knew that I still had it in me.

“So I’m taking it day by day, by one step and that is where I am at the minute. I’m enjoying playing football, I’m loving it.”

He knuckled down partly out of insecurity, saying, “I had to sit down and have a word with myself or else it was going to fade away. In football, there are so many players that if you are not at it you get left behind. You just get young players coming through and better players coming through and you just get moved on.

He almost instantly became a regular in the Brighton team once again, but did he truly believe that he would get a second chance under Graham Potter? 

“If I’m being honest I didn’t think that I could. But the character that I am, I never say never. Unless someone throws me out the door then I’ll never give up. That is the kind of person I am.”

The Irish squad left Baku right after the game, on a charter flight back to Dublin via a refuelling stop in Bratislava. The squad will train at Abbottstown on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s friendly game in Dublin against Qatar, with the FAI confirming that 21,000 tickets have been sold already, with just 4,000 remaining for what should be the final international match restricted by Covid guidelines. 

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