Shelbourne Head Coach Damien Duff has urged supporters to savour the Reds’ first FAI Cup final appearance in a decade.
Doubts remain over the fitness of Shane Farrell who missed the final SSE Airtricity League game of the season against St Pats through injury. The Reds longest serving player is struggling still but will undergo a late fitness test before the showdown at the Aviva Stadium with Derry City tomorrow (3pm kick-off)
Duff has plenty of experience at Lansdowne Road from his playing days, having won 100 caps for Ireland. The Reds boss says leading the team out on Sunday will be a special moment and that reaching the final is the highlight of his football career:
“When you come here, your national stadium, there’s no greater moment. It doesn’t mean you have to be pulling on the green shirt. You’re pulling on the Shelbourne shirt on Sunday and it’s just as proud a moment.”
“I brought the guys here on Monday to make them familiar, they won’t admit it, but I would say a few hadn’t been here, a few certainly hadn’t been pitchside and what have you.
“I know for a fact that some haven’t worn a suit ever in their life! Each to their own. Shane Farrell is one of them.
“It’s an absolutely massive occasion, I know I said after the Waterford game, and I’m sure people were like, you’ve just won four games, anyone can do that.
“It’s not the fact we’ve won four games, it’s the whole journey, the whole process, I’d never planned on being a manager.
“I said at the start when I took over the gig I was scared. I said no because I didn’t back myself, but in the end I took it.
“That’s why it’s the pinnacle. Football is football, I played it — whereas this is totally out of my comfort zone. That’s why it’s number one.”
The Reds will bring one of the youngest squads to a decider in FAI Cup final history, with an average age of just 22-year-old. Duff has urged his young players to savour the occasion:
“These finals don’t come around very often. It’s something I’ve got to learn about quickly. To embrace it, enjoy it, don’t take it as a given that it is your first year and you will be here every year. That’s an eye opener to me.”
Duff also implored his young side not to let the occasion get to them, as the Reds go in search of their first FAI Cup win since 2000: “It’s happened to me a couple of times in my career where you’ve built something up too much.
“You’re constantly thinking about the game and adrenaline is flowing through your veins 24/7 every day leading up to the game and then you fall flat on your face in the game.
“They’re young boys, I’ve spoken about that with them but, listen, to quote someone yesterday, I overheard one of the boys say “I’d die to get on the pitch” and that was an absolute quote.
“I thought it was beautiful because at the end of the day, it’s every young boy’s dream to play in their national stadium.
“And when I heard that yesterday I was like wow that’s powerful, so they’d die to get on the pitch’.
“That’s why we are here at the end of the day.”
Officials at the club arranged logistics last week like attire, travel, and accommodation, allowing the squad and the staff to focus fully on football for the final.
Duff knows the importance of taking care of distractions well in advance of 3pm on Sunday:
“My job this week was to breed calm into the players. A bugbear of mine is when people you haven’t heard of in three or four years get onto you, like they’re best mates, looking for tickets.
“I didn’t want any nonsense this week so suits, hotel rooms, tickets were all sorted last week.
“This week has been about addressing the mind, not tactics. I am not making out that I’m some spiritual guru or anything but with our guys their biggest obstacle is themselves.”
Duff is not stranger to a big game at Lansdowne Road, despite his success on the playing field he’s braced for a natural amount of nervous energy:
“I’m still nervous, I’ll be nervous on Sunday, I was nervous every day before giving a team talk, you have to be on edge, there is no point getting out of bed if that’s not the case.
“But I’m a lot more comfortable. I’ve probably grown in every facet of the job as the year has gone on.”