With just two words, you could sense a child-like giddiness from Brian Duffy.
Whoop Whoop, he would write. And you could just imagine the scene. Surrounded by family and friends and wearing a beaming smile, proudness emanating from every bone in his body, he takes his seat. Even from watching social media feeds from the comfort of a sinking couch, it wasn’t too hard to sense that it was never just a football match.
For Brian Duffy, it was a family affair and the big man was the star of the show.
Brian Duffy is father to Shane. Friend of Shane. “Hero and idol” to Shane.
He had recently purchased a new family home in his beloved Derry with his wife Siobhain. He was in the prime of his life and the future would be cloaked in family, love and football.
And then, last May, he died suddenly at just the age of 53.
When you lose someone close to you, you will intermittently meander mindlessly through life. Auto pilot will steer you through the stormiest of waters but clarity and incisive thinking and focus can be lost in the haze.
On May 14, 2020, Shane Duffy bid farewell to his dad. With the Covid pandemic he was just one of 10 mourners present in the Church. It’s unfathomable to think how much pain the whole family went through at this time.
“You weren’t just my dad, you were my hero, my idol. I’ll miss ringing you after the match and you telling me how shite I was. Daddy, I love you and miss you. Look after us all now,” wrote Shane on Instagram at the time.
“Every time I put that green shirt on for our country, I’ll be thinking about you because I know how proud you were of me playing for Ireland. Love you and miss you.”
Covid was ripping through Europe and the Premier League ground to a halt a week before his father died but Shane’s mourning time was cut short to return to Brighton and Hove Albion. He was on the bench for their first match back on June 20 – a 2-1 victory over Arsenal.
It’s no secret that Duffy’s form has dipped since. Competition from Adam Webster saw his game time cut short and he was loaned to Celtic in September, 2020. A step down for sure but another proud day for Brian. It would be another chapter in the fairytale book with his son as the main character.
We can debate the nuances of Duffy’s form all we want. But the fact is that he is mourning the loss of his father a few hundred miles from home during a global pandemic. The absence of fans offered no motivation to shake him out of the lull.
While we can’t control what the pond life say on social media, Ireland fans can show our support ahead of next week’s World Cup qualifier against Serbia. Disgusting abuse appeared online as Celtic tamely surrendered their league title and a possible 10-in-a-row with arch-rivals Rangers sauntering to the Scottish League title. So much so that Shane’s mother, Siobhain, took to Twitter to ask: “What is wrong with people! This is my son who is dealing with the loss of his best friend and father. How dare they. There is limits t’s a game of football. Get a grip. Something needs to be done about these trolls. As if mental health isn’t bad enough so much for #BeKind.”
The key point about it just being football will never resonate with faceless goons only too happy to lob their uneducated and mindless barbs at someone they see as fair game until they are confronted.
With Serbia away just days away, it’s a timely reminder for all Irish fans to remember what Shane Duffy has done in a green jersey. The 2018/19 Player of The Year at Brighton, winner of countless Man of the Match awards for Ireland and, of course, scorer of so many crucial goals, hasn’t become a bad player overnight.
Everyone suffers grief.
Everyone needs an arm around the shoulder.
Stephen Kenny summed it up well when speaking to the media on Thursday.
“What I will say about Shane Duffy, we know he has had a tough year at Celtic, he knows he has had a tough year. He has been a great player, and he has never let Ireland down,” said Kenny.
“Shane Duffy has never let Ireland down. He has played when he’s been injured, he has played three games in six days and travelled twice within that, he puts everything on the line for Ireland continually, and we shouldn’t forget that just because he has had a tough time.
“He is capable of coming back, he is back training with Celtic and he is in their squad for the match at the weekend. He may not be selected, but he comes back into our squad.”
Irish fans have always taken to players with those attributes. Shane Duffy has them and so much more.
His best days are still to come.
Words Ger Keville