Duffy steps up to dazzle on Everton debut
The teenage dreams of a man from the same city as The Undertones came true on Wednesday night.
And this one will be hard to beat.
Londonderry native Shane Duffy expected nothing different than before when he took up his place on the Everton bench for their Europa League group contest with AEK Athens.
Duffy — who doesn’t turn 18 until New Year’s Day — has been named amongst the substitutes for all but a handful of the Toffees’ games this season.
Actually getting to remove his tracksuit and step onto the pitch eluded him until 17 minutes into the game in Athens, when Sylvain Distin became the latest Everton player to be struck down with injury, handing Duffy his big chance.
And with no time to get nervous, he slotted into the centre of defence alongside makeshift centre-half Tony Hibbert and helped David Moyes’ men secure their place in the last 32 of the competition, thanks to a 1-0 win, given to them by Russian midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
As debuts go it wasn’t a bad one for Duffy and whatever happens between now and the end of his career, it’s a game he will always remember.
His performance earned rave reviews from TV pundits working on the live coverage of the match and the man he needs to please most — the manager — was also pleased with how Duffy handled his first senior appearance.
Moyes has been forced into giving a number of talented young hopefuls their break this season with a host of first-team stars being struck with various injuries and it was on Wednesday night that they really came to the fore for the Goodison Park men.
“I am pleased with how the young boys who came on did,” said Moyes.
“It's great experience for them playing in the Europa League; one or two are maybe stepping up a bit soon but it's needs must at the moment.
“Seeing Sylvain Distin going off, then Dan Gosling and then Jo, you are saying to yourself 'what are we going to do'.
“This is when the youngsters need to step up. This is a chance for them to give themselves some sort of start this season to help them become better and stronger.
“Duffy came on and took a touch and they nicked the ball off him, but he learned very quickly to clear the ball and to be a bit more composed.”
Both Distin and Gosling are major doubts for Sunday’s Premier League meeting with Tottenham, meaning that it could turn out to be an even more memorable week for the Northern Ireland under-21 international.
Being thrust into a European game at a moments notice is one thing, a Premier League bow against an in-form striker like Jermain Defoe would be a different prospect entirely.
That will be a contest — if it comes off — that Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington will watch with great interest.
Duffy was drafted into the Milk Cup squad last year under Worthington’s instructions — as a 16-year-old in an under-20 tournament — and has made swift progress through the ranks, being a regular at under-19 level as well as posting some impressive performances for the under-21 side and having the confidence to shoulder the penalty taking responsibility too.
He was named in the senior squad for the June friendly in Italy, but was the only substitute not to make it onto the pitch. At just six months past his 17th birthday at the time he would have been the youngest international since Norman Whiteside and the sixth youngest in Northern Ireland history.
“Shane has a big future ahead of him and when you look at the Evans brothers, Craig Cathcart, Ryan McGivern, Oliver Norwood, Niall McGinn, Kyle Lafferty and Andrew Little, who are all 22 or under, the future looks good for Northern Ireland too,” said Worthington.
“It’s great to see Shane making progress at Everton and I know David Moyes rates him highly.”