Duff ready to fight for Europe

Shelbourne FC are on the road once again this week as they make the trip to Oriel Park to face Dundalk FC this Sunday (5pm)

Damien Duff’s side will head into the game off the back of a confidence boosting 2-0 victory over Cork City FC at Turners Cross in the League of Ireland Premier Division a week ago.

In team news, Damien Duff got a boost on the injury front with the news that both Shane Griffin and Paddy Barrett are back after a spell on the sidelines and Matty Smith is coming closer to a return: 

“Griff is back available, great to have him in the mix. Matty is still building up to speed. We hope to have him back before the run in. Matty is back running and he should be back in training in the next 2 weeks, we’ll monitor him and see how he is and hope there are no setbacks.

“Brian McManus is back running and it would be great to get him back. Joey O’Brien had that operation and knows how tricky that can be and how the recovery goes, there’s no pressure on Brian at all, we won’t rush it, it’s important he takes his time. We want to get him right. 

“Myself, the staff, we want to look after players 24/7 so we made sure Brian had the best of care and got this issue dealt with properly, Stephen Mulhearn helped get Brian in with the best knee surgeon in the world in London, his op went well and he’s in the best of hands. It’s great to see him back doing some running. He’s with the best physio in the country in Mark Cornish and the focus now is getting Brian back to full health. 

“Paddy Barrett trained this week, he went off against Bohs and missed last week, he came through ok in training. That wasn’t a major issue, short term niggle back after just a week. That’s huge for us. Paddy is such a big player, and he will have an important part to play going into the final round of fixtures, keeping Paddy fit will play a big part in us getting to where we want to get to. Most important bit, him staying fit.”

The Reds got back to winning ways after their FAI Cup exit with a comfortable 2-0 victory over strugglers Cork City, Duff was pleased with the result and more importantly the performance: 

“The guys handled that challenge really well, it’s a difficult place to go, a hostile crowd, they get behind their team, especially difficult if you’re a team from Dublin, and even more so for Shels, they don’t like us very much, a lot of history. 

“The players handled it very well and took the sting out of the game, the performance was professional and clinical with two brilliant goals from Harry and Sean. I liked the composure we showed and it’s important the players bring that on Sunday for what will be a very difficult game on a very difficult pitch.” 

Sean Boyd scored off the bench last week and while Duff admitted he was unlikely to have been too happy with being left out of the starting XI against Cork City, he saw the perfect response from the striker: 

“Sean did well coming on down in Cork, he scored an amazing goal that’s got him on the shortlist for goal of the month, listen, he probably slaughtered me when he found out he wasn’t in the team, Sean and me will always have that love/hate dynamic but under it all he knows I care deeply for him as a person. He’s been amazing for me, he put his trust in me to get him back up to a proper speed and I’m really grateful for what he’s done for me, the staff, the fans and Shelbourne football club as a whole.

“Sean wears his heart on his sleeve, he puts everything into the jersey and has been brilliant, he bought completely in to what it means to represent Shels, he can be a real leader, that’s why we rewarded him with a new contract early, he’s had a good week, scored a great goal, and will bounce into tomorrow’s game with confidence.”

Will Jarvis had a full training week with the squad having arrived on loan from Hull City toward the end of last week. Duff is hopeful the Englishman will make a meaningful contribution:

“Will has settled fine, we saw glimpses off him last week and the ability he has and listen he’s still in pre-season, he’s a lot of talent no doubt, he’s a quiet boy but it’s up to us as staff to help bring him out of his shell, that’s the other side of management, he’s settled in and has two familiar faces Harry Fisk and Harry Wood and that’s helped. 

“Look, let’s call a spade a spade, he won’t be here for long, he has to get the best out of this loan experience and we have to get the best out of him as a player. Young boy, lots of talent, wants to make a mark. Great, let’s go.”

Heading into the business end of the season the Reds are well placed, before Friday’s games they began the weekend in 6th place in the League of Ireland table, 4 points behind Bohs in 4th, and 5 points off Derry City in third. Duff feels their well placed, albeit could’ve taken more point this year, the Reds boss knows the next few games will be defining moments in the season:

“You always dream big at the start of the season. If you offered me where we are now, to be honest I’d rather have more points and still be in the FAI Cup, we left points and wins behind, I’m sure other managers will say the same. It’s the nature of the beast. 

“We’re an ambitious group. We’ve been clear where we want to get to, that’s Europe. I said it before break, after the 1-1 draw with Sligo Rovers, nice position at the midway point, all to play for, but it was how we build on that that really mattered, we have to look at it as a position to pounce, as well as the guys have done, we need to up it again.

“That’s a big ask to get into the top 4, and that’s assuming one of the top 3 win the cup. We take nothing for granted, us as staff, them as players, nice position to be in but we have to kick in, we’re not resting and thinking, we’ve done ok, we need to kick it on another level.”

Just a point separates Shels in 6th from Dundalk in 5th place in the table. This will be the third time the teams have played in the 2023 campaign, the last meeting in Tolka ended in a 1-1 draw, the reverse in Oriel saw The Town emerge 2-1 winners. The Reds have yet to get the better of the Louth side since winning promotion but Duff feels that’s not the main motivation tomorrow:

“It has been mentioned that we’ve yet to beat them, we’re going to have to beat them to get to where we want to go. My biggest motivation is the league table, where we are, where they are. If we get into Europe not having beaten them, great, but to get to where we want to go you have to beat the Dundalks, the Rovers, etc in the league and we haven’t done that yet since we came back up. It’s not the primary motivator though, the real challenge is finishing ahead of them, that’s what is driving the motivation for the group, and I think that would probably be the same for them.”

Duff and Joey O’Brien were in Oriel Park on Thursday night as Dundalk’s European campaign for this season came to an end after they could only manage a 2-2 draw against KA of Iceland in the 2nd leg of their Europa Conference League qualifier..

That saw the Icelandic side advance 5-3 on aggregate. Duff knows Dundalk will be eager to make up for that setback on Sunday:

“Listen they will be upset they didn’t go through, I’m sure they would’ve backed themselves when they saw the tie, they’ll be bitterly disappointed, good core of top pros in their squad, Stevie O’Donnell, a great manager, they’ll look to bounce back, they’ll want to have those European nights again there for next season, the task for us is as hard as ever. It’s something we’re looking forward to though, we need to be at our game, it’ll be another full house. Hostile environment and two teams you’d expect to be desperate to get the three points.”

Duff called on Shels supporters to get behind in the team and travel in numbers to Oriel Park, stating that he believes the away fans can give the players a big lift:

“I hope to see another packed away end like we had at Turners Cross and Dalymount, it gives such a real lift. It’s massive for the players really, it probably speaks volumes where the club is at, that fans are coming in numbers every week home and away, they have a team they believe in and a group of players and staff that they can relate to and see how much the club means to all of us.

“Down in Cork and in Phibsboro, it was amazing to see, the colour, the noise, it gives me goosebumps on the touchline and another little burst of energy running up and down it for the 90 minutes, I can only imagine how much the players will feed off it.”

Shels fans can buy their tickets here

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