Duff relishing Sligo showdown

Shelbourne FC are on the road again after a week off as they travel to the Showgrounds to face Sligo Rovers this Saturday in the League of Ireland (7:45pm)

Damien Duff’s side will head into the match off the back of a competitive in house XI v XI last Thursday, with no league game last Friday. 

The extra week has also provided a boost on the injury front as Brian McManus and Matty Smith return to action:

Duff told ShelbourneFC.ie after training on Friday: “Brian and Matty are back, the squad looks a lot healthier. They haven’t trained a lot, they’re still getting up to speed. Seeing them back is a big boost. 

“Matty is really like having a new signing, I did discuss it with him to see if he was confident enough to go on the bench, if the ankle was ready, he feels good. He’s been out so long, there’s no pressure on him, but if he can have the same impact he did this time last year. That would be huge, we still have to get them both up to speed and match sharpness.

“Sean Boyd is back running as well, there’s pros and cons with the Bohs game being put back 3 weeks, there’s a big break of three weeks, but Boydy will be targeting that game and we’ll see him back for some big ones, we hope.”

The Reds game scheduled for September 15th at Dalymount was moved to the 25th, the knock on impact will Duff’s side play 3 games in 7 days. The manager though is confident they can cope:

“The rejig of that game, you have to adapt, you can’t dwell on it. We will play an in house game in between and will look external to get a game, to fill the weekends. Then straight back into 3 games in a week.

“We’d hope to still be in the running then for Europe, we pride ourselves on our fitness, I have no time or patience for lads saying ‘Friday, Monday, it’s hard.’ That’s elite football, those busy times, that’s what you want, we’ve a small squad, the break there when it came, it had pros and cons, we needed time to get lads back from injury, but also you want to be playing week in, week out.”

The Reds last visit to the Showgrounds was a 3-0 win earlier in the summer, with Jack Moylan netting a hattrick on the night. Duff was pleased with the result, but knows they will need an improved performance if they are to take three points tomorrow night:

“Result wise, it was good, I said at the time I thought it was clinical and composed. We know we need to be better with the ball, when you look back on it as a footballing performance, in possession, it’ll need to be a lot better. The guys know that and have been shown the clips”

Shels begin the night in 6th place, 3 points behind Dundalk in 5th, and 6 behind Bohs who currently occupy 4th spot. Duff feels the next few weeks will be instrumental in shaping the outcome of their season:

“Feels a bit like knock out football, one result can knock the wind of the sails, it’s so tight, every game is a cup final feel. Not just us, this whole weekend is full of cup finals, Bohs tonight against Derry, Dundalk away to Rovers, then us tomorrow night. 

“We’ve been clear on our ambition and the lads had that mindset last year, even as a newly promoted team, can we get in the hunt for Europe?

“First and foremost we wanted to stay up this year, stabilise the club and make Shels a constant in the Premier division, give the fans a competitive team that they would be proud of and go into every game knowing, the players gave everything for Shels.

“We’re not delusional, we wanted to get safety first and look at teams above us, last season it wasn’t just the cup, we spoke about getting to Europe through the league, we have some big characters in our dressing room, they want to play in Europe, they’re desperate to bring success to Shels, we’re in a good place really now and I’m really proud to be working with the players and staff.”

Sligo start the night 10 points behind the Reds, but Duff knows they would be foolish to underestimate John Russell’s side: 

“They beat Derry not long ago at the Showgrounds, They beat Bohs, they can spring anything on you, if you disrespect them, you’ll be left looking foolish. People might be expecting us to roll in there because we took 7 points off them in the three games this year, it doesn’t work like that.

“Sligo have top players, Hartmann back fit, what we’ve done in training this week has been centred on showing the players we need to deliver more and be better with the ball and the players are well aware of the challenge and do not underestimate it for one second.”

Finally Duff reserved a special word of praise for the Shels fans, who travel far and wide to follow the team.

“They were unfortunate last time we played Sligo with the bus breaking down, a good few didn’t make the game. I was sent the videos of the train back to Dublin, people watching it on phones, it looked like great craic. I’m sure the 3 points helped make up for missing the game.

“We know they’ll be there in big numbers tomorrow, I saw the stats during the week, we have one of the biggest average away attendances in the country. They are genuinely amazing home and away and they should never underestimate what they bring to the team, when we’ve picked up brilliant results, they tend to be nights when the crowd is electric, Shels supporters have always played a big part for us.”

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