Duff excited for Derry challenge

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Shelbourne FC return to League of Ireland action after the international break as title contenders Derry City visit Tolka Park on Friday. 

The Reds go into the game after back to back wins in the Leinster Senior Cup and the League of Ireland.

Damien Duff’s side secured a spot in the quarter-final of the Leinster Senior Cup as Jack Moylan, Kyle Robinson, Evan Caffrey, and Gbemi Arubi got the goals in a 4-0 win over Dundalk last week.

A number of players have been carrying injuries in recent weeks that has left the Reds down to the bare bones. 

Head coach Damien Duff delivered a squad update ahead of tomorrow’s game. He told ShelbourneFC.ie: “We’re in a lot better shape on the injury front, a lot stronger I’m glad to say. JJ Lunney, Mark Coyle, Paddy Barrett, and Jad Hakiki are fit and available. Great to be able to have them come back into the mix. Kian Leavy is back, he was in with the Ireland U21s and did well. 

“Injury wise we’re getting lads back at the right time, we’re only missing our long term injured players Conor Kane and Sean Boyd. 

“The likes of Jad and Mark, great to see them back. Fit and match fit is a big difference, but glad both are pain free.

“Jad needs to get minutes, so we might see him with the U19s, he’s missed a lot of football but listen, he’s back and available for us. 

“With the guys coming back it gives me and the staff a welcome headache when it comes to sitting down and picking the team.”

The Reds have lost just one of their last 5 games, a narrow defeat to Dundalk in Oriel Park was followed by a draw with Shamrock Rovers in Tolka and a win away to Cork City, before the 4-0 win over Dundalk in the Leinster Senior Cup.

Duff feels his side are starting to find some consistency: “You usually get results from positive performances. Lads are on it now week in, week out. The benefit of that is the real competition for places now. 

“Lads have no choice, they know the levels they need to hit to be involved on a Friday night. Listen we couldn’t say that for a lot of last season, the team almost picked itself, it was a light squad we all know that. 

“We’ve come on a lot in the last few months, lads are well aware now what is required, that complacency that comes with nearly being a certain starter every week is gone, they know they need to perform. 

“Experienced it myself as a player, there’s no greater wake up call than when new blood, competition arrives into the football club.

“Lads who came in during the off season probably did give some of the guys here a fright and a jolt, they know there’s real competition for places and depth now, and credit to the new boys they’ve settled well, got to work quickly and have made a positive impact.”

Derry have been in fine form and are second in the League of Ireland Premier Division table. The Candystripes come into this after back to back draws with Sligo and Dundalk. Duff knows they’ll be eager to get back to winning ways:

“Top team Derry, they’ve footballing greats in their team, some proper players, some of the top talent in the League of Ireland. That quality isn’t easy to match; they can affect and win games, and that’s what we saw in the FAI Cup final. 

“Look, Bohs have got off to a great start. Derry will be title contenders, the gap between Rovers and Derry is closing, I’ve said before I still think Rovers are the team, leading the way in Ireland.

“Derry are right up there, I’ve huge respect for their manager Ruaidhrí Higgins, he’s a great guy and I’ve a lot of admiration for him and the job he’s doing.”  

This will be a repeat of the 2022 FAI Cup Final, a one sided affair that saw Derry City deservedly lift the trophy at the Aviva Stadium back in November. Ahead of the renewal of the rivalry, Duff doesn’t believe that game will have any meaning tomorrow night:

“Will it make a difference? Not for me, totally different game, arena, occasion. It’s our home ground, Tolka Park, the soul of Shelbourne Football Club. We’ve a good team coming down to us, live on TV, we’re playing well, why would we be thinking about 5 months ago? 

“My thoughts on the game, my approach, the team I pick, it’s not a revenge mission or anything like that. I’ve a lot of motivating factors for tomorrow, the players do, but November 13 is not one of them. I don’t need that to get myself up for a game at Tolka Park.

“Don’t think that one game shows a reflection of the rivalry with Derry, we won 2-1 and drew 1-1 in the Brandywell last year, we were unlucky not to get anything at home.

“Results wise they’ve been tight games in the league, listen we know there’s a gulf there in terms of the quality and depth of Derry and what they’re operating with but it shows how well the lads did perform that we competed and beat them in the league last year.

“The FAI Cup final, on the day they were the better side, we’re honest we know we deserved what we got, we weren’t ready to deliver on the big occasion, but trust me when I say this, we will be. That’s where we’re looking to go.

“I have no doubt, the team that is out tomorrow night is a lot better than the team that lost the FAI Cup Final, we’re constantly growing, evolving and improving.” 

Friday night will mark a milestone for Shels club captain Luke Byrne, who will make his 100th appearance for the club should he start against Derry City. Duff was full of praise for the Howth native:

“I talk about my admiration for Luke Byrne fairly regularly, listen honestly, it’s hero worship stuff at this point, the presence he has at this club, in our dressing room. He’s a born leader. Delighted to see him play his 100th game for the club. We spoke about it after training today, he’s a warrior, he commands so much respect, leads by example, a genuine war horse. The dressing room, the staff, the club, the supporters, they love him so much, I love him. He’s been through so much and he has so much enthusiasm and love for the game.

“I like to think I got Luke into coaching at Rovers. He’s a big player for Shels and he’s a big player in the League of Ireland. Mark my words, he’ll manage in the League of Ireland as a young man. He’s had a brilliant career here, I’ve no doubt he’s got a lot left to give as a player, but he’ll manage very young. That’s testament to his qualities as a leader.

“It’s not easy for Luke, look his injuries are well documented, it’s heart on the sleeve stuff every time he puts on the Red shirt, the dressing room rows in behind him. 

“He’s always ready at 7:45pm on a Friday and every waking moment, his full focus is on doing that, the hardest bit of his week is the other 6 days and the way he prepares for games.

“People don’t see it, it’s ridiculous what he has to go through. He’s just constantly recovering. Shels is his life. Being on the pitch is his life, giving everything for his teammates is his life. I’ve been fortunate to be in some great teams, great dressing rooms, but Luke Byrne, hands down and without doubt is the best captain I’ve ever come across in football. 

Match Programme:

There will be no digital match programme for this week’s game. We’ll have a bumper double match edition for our next home game at Tolka Park. We are seeking contributors for the programme. If you’re interested please email darren.cleary@shelbournefc.ie