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'I think we can go and win it' - Duffy setting Irish ambitions high for 2022

The defender has echoed his manager’s belief that Ireland can win their Nations League group, using Saturday’s friendly with Belgium as preparation.

Shane Duffy speaks to the press.
Shane Duffy speaks to the press.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

HAS FOOTBALL EVER seen a colder embrace than that between Ireland and the Uefa Nations League? 

Uefa’s tiered alternative to friendly games has been staged twice so far, and across a total of 10 games, Ireland have won zero games and scored two goals. In 2018 they were hammered 4-1 away to Wales before a 1-0 loss at home and a pair of goalless draws with Denmark brought the curtain down on the Martin O’Neill era. They were spared relegation because Uefa changed the format and expanded the leagues to consist of four-team groups. That meant Ireland stayed in League B for 2020, where Stephen Kenny’s Covid-defined travails proved wretched too. Six games, three draws, three defeats, one goal scored. Relegation avoided by a final day draw against Bulgaria.

In spite of that truly risible record, Kenny has since boldly talked of winning the next Nations League group, which would bring with it promotion to the top tier and the guarantee of a play-off to the 2024 Euros. Ireland’s task is difficult – drawn against Ukraine, Scotland, and Armenia – and the Russian invasion has sundered the initial plans.

It’s utterly unimportant, really, but the double-header with Ukraine looks unlikely to go ahead in June, with Ukraine’s World Cup play-off with Scotland postponed until that month at the earliest. The home game with Armenia may be brought forward to fill the gap, but nothing is yet confirmed, with CEO Jonathan Hill promising the FAI will be as flexible as they can be. 

Kenny’s talk of winning the group, however, has been echoed by his defender Shane Duffy, when he was asked at a press conference to define a successful 2022. 

“I think we can go well in the Nations League. I think we can win the group and that’s not me speaking ahead of ourselves. The way we are going and the belief that we have, I think we can go win it. I think that would be a successful start and go on from there.

“For me, that is what we have to start believing and aiming as a country – that we can win groups and qualify for tournaments – and that is the belief the country has, but that comes from us, from you, from the fans. And why not? You can see the progression we are making now.

“When we had a difficult start we always said the young players would benefit from that and we are seeing that now. We are picking up results. Hopefully we can win the Nations League and have a good qualification campaign and set the standard for ourselves and give the whole nation a buzz.” Duffy spoke ahead of the year’s first game, Saturday’s friendly with Belgium. Roberto Martinez’ side are ranked number one in the world but are taking an experimental squad to Dublin, featuring only players with 50 caps or fewer. Seven of the squad play in the Belgian league, a competition in which you’ll find one member of the Irish squad: Anderlecht’s Josh Cullen. 

josh-cullen Josh Cullen. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

“Like we touched on there’s a few big names missing from their squad”, said Cullen, “more experienced players but there’s definitely a lot of talent coming through, Yari [Verschaeren] from Anderlecht and a few other players from the Belgian league who are good strong players and we’ll have to be at the top of our game to compete with them.

“You still have the likes of Tielemans, Origi, Benteke in the squad so that’s by no means a young, inexperienced squad. They are still taking on the mantle from the golden generation, the players before. We knew before we met up and we know from analysing their squad and team that they have some top players and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

While Duffy was happy to look ahead to the broader picture at international level, he wasn’t budging when asked about his club future, with his Brighton deal expiring at the end of next season. 

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“I’m not even thinking about stuff like that. From where I was in my life and my career, it’s just about enjoying every game and every day. Whatever happens, football is a funny sport and anything can happen. For me, it’s just about being happy and enjoying my game and embracing it. I’m loving being at Brighton, it’s a home for me and I’ll always be there until they tell me I’m not. That’s where I’m at. I’m not even looking that far down the line.”

 

 

 

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Gavin Cooney

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