Duffy feels like he belongs after nervous start to professional career

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Shane Duffy has admitted his first steps as a professional footballer left him “shaking” on the pitch.

The towering defender made his debut for Everton as a 17-year-old in a Europa League tie at AEK Athens in December 2009, the first of only a handful of senior appearances for the club, and he recalls those early days with a shudder.

He said: “When I played at Everton the first time, I was purely raw. I’d just come out of Derry and I was shaking when I was playing.

“For the first five minutes you do, you’ll be shaking and you don’t even want the ball. When you get your first header, you feel better about it all.

“But the first five minutes, you’re thinking about everything, where you are positioned, and looking around everywhere.”

Now 26 and having worked his way via loan spells at Burnley, Scunthorpe and Yeovil to Blackburn and now Brighton, Duffy has established himself as a dependable performer both in the Premier League and on the international stage with the Republic of Ireland.

He said: “Now I’m just calm, I feel like I belong there. It’s a nice feeling to go out knowing you can compete with those kind of players and feel comfortable.”

That feeling of comfort appeared to have extended to the Ireland training pitch in Antalya on Tuesday as assistant manager Roy Keane oversaw shooting practice.

Keane was providing the service for the players and one of his set-up balls for Duffy was less than inviting, a point the defender made public in industrial fashion.

He said with a smile: “I nearly forgot who I was speaking to when I said it! It’s just being comfortable.”

Duffy’s efforts for his country were rewarded on Sunday evening when he was named Senior Player of the Year at the Football Association of Ireland’s International Awards ceremony.

For a man who had to undergo life-saving surgery after suffering a lacerated liver on the Ireland training ground in 2010, that represented the latest landmark on an eventful journey.

He said: “When I won it, it was just pure shock. James [McClean] was the main man. He scored the big goals and he was very unlucky not to win it.

“It was just one of those. I was more shell-shocked than anything.”

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