Monday 21 August 2017, 09:01

Duffy: I was just trying to survive

  • Shane Duffy suffered life-threatening injury aged 18

  • Made full recovery, now a regular for Republic of Ireland 

  • Promoted to English Premier League with Brighton and Hove Albion last season

For some, sustaining a life-threatening injury while playing for a football team may cause some emotional pain, or trauma, whenever you pull that jersey on again. Shane Duffy just wants to get on with it.

“I try not to think too much about it,” Duffy told FIFA.comin an exclusive interview. “Obviously, it’s scary thinking that you could have died but for someone like me, I don’t really think about it. As long as I’m surviving, it’s alright to put it behind me.”

An 18-year-old Duffy was called up to the Republic of Ireland squad for the first time under Giovanni Trapattoni back in 2010. During a friendly match for the development squad against a local side at the training camp, Duffy collided with the opposition goalkeeper and was rushed to hospital. The defender underwent life-saving surgery after the blood supply to his liver was cut off in the collision. Duffy made a miraculous recovery from what the team surgeon described as a “freak injury” and was discharged after less than a week in hospital, with his then national team manager describing him as “very lucky.”

“I actually don’t remember much from what happened,” Duffy admits. “I was just trying to survive that first week and then I worked my way back. I think I came back a bit too quick from injury and it probably cost me a couple of years.”

Those few years saw the defender head out on loan from Everton a number of times. A somewhat stalled career picked up again after finally making his full international debut in 2014, four years after that training camp incident. Sturdy performances in the English second tier for Blackburn Rovers, added to a sensational showing against Italy at UEFA EURO 2016, saw Duffy seal a move to current club Brighton and Hove Albion, with whom he was promoted to the English Premier League last season.

Those few weeks in France are an undoubted highlight for Duffy.

“It was mad,” Duffy laughed. “I didn’t expect to even go because I didn’t play in qualifying. The Italy game was obviously the biggest game of my career and it was just a surreal experience, really.”

Duffy put in a defensive performance against Gli Azzurri that would have impressed the erstwhile exponents of catenaccio, leading his team to a 1-0 victory and through to the knockout stages.

“You don’t really think too much before and during the game,” Duffy recalled. “You’re just trying to not make any mistakes, do the simple things. I only found out about an hour before I was playing. It ended up being a huge night for the country.”

The unique management style of Martin O’Neill – “a top manager” according to Duffy - in informing the defender such a short time before kick-off reaped its rewards, with the Brighton man and his Ireland team-mates no doubt hoping for more huge nights next year at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

“Qualifying has been a bit up and down,” Duffy said. “It’s a tough group and some tough games but I think anyone can beat anyone in that group, and we haven’t been beaten yet, so it’s good. We’ve got huge games coming up now, which will probably decide the group. I’m confident that we can do it. It would be the biggest achievement in my career so far, if we were to qualify.”

The road to Russia so far for ROI Serbia 2-2 Republic of Ireland Republic of Ireland 1-0 Georgia Moldova 1-3 Republic of IrelandAustria 0-1 Republic of Ireland Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales Republic of Ireland 1-1 Austria

The Irish are currently second in Group D on goal difference, and those “huge” remaining fixtures include Serbia (in Dublin) and Wales (in Cardiff). Republic of Ireland have not been to a global finals since Korea/Japan 2002.

“I was still at school!” Duffy smiled. “I remember when Robbie scored the goal against Germany and I remember the celebration in the town. I went round to my cousin’s house for the opening game against Cameroon, early in the morning. I think everyone in the world wants Ireland to go to the World Cup because of the fans. We’ve got a good chance for Russia - it’s in our hands.”

Since that fateful day in 2010, the defender has certainly grabbed his life, and career, with both hands. The year ahead, in England’s top flight with Brighton and a potential trip to Russia, is a fitting reward for working his way back from the brink.