Belfast Telegraph

Freak accident has Shane Duffy eager to seize his Republic chance

By David Kelly

A grim tussle with one’s very existence will change a human being irreparably. It informs you with a different view of the world. It changes you. When something intense happens to a friend or colleague, good or bad, you react differently.

No longer do you immediately think of it in terms of what it means for you. You think about what it means to them.

The notable freak training ground incident that could have had fatal, never mind professional, consequences for Blackburn Rovers defender Shane Duffy has altered his persona.

“In football you can never get too high or too low because you end up getting caught,” he said. “You have to stay level-headed and that’s what I am trying to do, not since the accident but more since then I've looked at life a bit. Just stay level because you have highs and lows.”

And there was a low when fellow Northern Irishman Marc Wilson received the devastating confirmation that his knee injury would scupper the last vestiges of his Euro 2016 hopes.

Many might have whooped in delight, particularly those like Duffy, the best-placed candidate to step into the defensive breach before Martin O’Neill finalises his squad after Friday’s clash against Holland and next week’s Cork friendly against Belarus.

Duffy’s first instinct, though, was at a more gut, human level.  “Of course you would not like to see it happen to anyone because I have been there,” he said.

It is almost six years ago to the day since the then 18-year-old suffered the accident that left him with a lacerated liver; perspective comes with ease.

“It’s unfortunate for Marc because he has been a big part of qualifying and it’s never nice to see somebody getting injured before a big tournament,” said the defender. “I am sure he would have played a key part.”

Naturally, the professional element of Duffy’s character then kicked in.

Having impressed against Switzerland in March, in defence and in supplying a headed, set-piece assist for the only goal of the game, the one-time Everton squad member is now left to assess where he stands. According to O’Neill, who will grant him only the third cap of an interrupted international career against Holland this Friday, he is primed.

“I don’t want to heap an awful lot of expectation on him but I think he’s done fine,” said Ulsterman O’Neill. “I also think that he displayed against Switzerland that he can be a threat in the opposition box too.”

This is Duffy’s opportunity; life has braced him to make the most of every one.

“I’ve just got to have a big week and hopefully I can persuade the manager to take me and that’s what I will be doing in every session,” he said. “You’ve got to take the chance because it may not happen again. You don’t know what is around the corner.”

Ask him if he still reflects on what happened following the sickening collision during a practice match in Malahide six years ago and he is certain.

“Every day. And not just now because I’m back involved. I do look at life a little bit differently because I mightn’t have been here,” he added. “It probably turned me around and made me stronger. So I’ve just got to keep my head down now and try and enjoy my football.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital