No looking back for Duffy over World Cup heartache

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Shane Duffy is not looking forward to a summer which will see him sitting in an armchair watching the World Cup finals on television.

The 26-year-old Republic of Ireland defender came within 90 minutes of heading for Russia with his team-mates when they returned from Denmark with a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their play-off in November with qualification within their grasp.

However, a humbling 5-1 defeat at the Aviva Stadium after the Brighton man had headed them into an early lead ended their hopes and left them wondering what might have been.

Duffy said: “It will be a tough watch, the World Cup knowing we were so close. That’s football, you have got to get it behind you and go again.

“Listen, you have got to get over it at some stage. Over the two legs, they were the better team, it’s as simple as that.

“That’s the hard part to agree with because you feel you are better than them, but over the two legs, they proved that they were.”

Ireland will get an opportunity to gain a measure of revenge on the Danes when they meet in the UEFA Nations League next year, although it could be a very different side which takes to the field with manager Martin O’Neill having broadened the net to include eight uncapped players in his squad to face Turkey on Friday evening.

Duffy, who was capped for the first time in 2014, is now one of O’Neill’s senior men less than two years after making his competitive debut in the famous 1-0 win over Italy which secured the Republic’s passage to the knockout stage at the Euro 2016 finals.

His contribution since has been more than significant and was recognised at the weekend when he was named Senior Player of the Year at the Football Association of Ireland’s International Awards ceremony.

Duffy learned the news as he sat at a snow-bound Manchester Airport after being thwarted in his attempts to make it to Dublin, but it gave him an opportunity to reflect upon his involvement with the squad which saw him almost die from a lacerated liver on the training field as a teenager and has since presented him with both highs and lows.

The former Everton and Blackburn player said: “When I won the award the other night, I looked back at the two years and thought how far I have come, and I have come a long way in a short space of time.

“It’s been crazy. It’s sometimes hard to remember everything that’s happened – the Euros, the disappointment of Denmark, getting promoted to the Premier League and playing in the Premier League… It’s just all happened so quickly.

“The manager [O’Neill] was the first one to say when he brought me back in two years later that there was a difference in me.

“I worked hard. I went away and played games and got myself properly fit and dedicated myself, and I feel like I’ve benefited from it.”

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