Duff: “Tolka is such a special place, it’s built for big nights”

The Ringsend Derby takes centre at Tolka Park on Friday night as the Reds play host to League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers. 

It’s the second derby in a week for Shels, coming 7 days after the narrow 1-0 win over Bohemian FC.

Head coach Damien Duff says preparations for this week have gone well and confidence within the squad is high:

“Training has been very good, third game in a week. You get no time on the pitch really. It’s all recovery. We haven’t been on the pitch since Monday until this morning’s session. It was our first day back on the pitch, so we’ve been all video this week to get ready for this game.” 

Shane Griffin is not expected to be involved in this week’s game as he continues to rehab a muscular issue. Sean Boyd remains sidelined and is due an operation on his injury.

Duff delivered an update on the shape of his squad ahead of the game, after Matty Smith, Luke Byrne and Shane Farrell started on the bench in Dundalk. Duff told ShelbourneFC.ie: “Luke is managing his knee but here, we never try to be clever for clever sake, if he was able to play on Monday, he would’ve played. 

“He’s working to be right and we’re hopeful he’ll be involved. Matty Smith has been carrying a niggle, he wasn’t involved against Bohs but came on up in Oriel Park. Shane Farrell is fit, he didn’t start on Monday, but there’s competition for places here. Three games in 7 days the team is going to be rotated and we’re going to use our squad. Shane is fit and ready.”

Shels go into the game looking to make it two home wins on the spin, having opened their account at Tolka last Friday. They face a Rovers side looking for their first win of the season. The slow start to the season aside, Duff knows they are facing a formidable foe:

“Top teams go one, two, three games without a win, they become very dangerous. I guess they can feel frustrated and hard done by some of their results so far but listen we can say the same thing. We’ve lost games we deserved to win, and same with Drogheda opening night, we deserved to win. We know that frustration of not getting the results the performances are due.”

With 4 games played the Reds have 4 points, the exact same return as 12 months ago. Duff believes though the squad have come on a lot in that time:

“I hope it’s there for people to see. We’ve had a few hard luck stories which ties in with last year a bit. The main difference is we know there’s a lot more to come. The players are receptive to coaching and hungry for hard work, they’re great guys to work with, and the big thing for us is we’re seeing them making improvements. 

“We’ve started well and strung some decent performances together, but that’s not enough. Now it’s about turning good displays into points on the board.”

“We want to bring a winning mindset to the club, we’re not about finding solace in narrow defeats after a good performance, we won’t be content with competing. 

“We’ll never drop our standards from a staff point of view, this year we’re lucky to have some more senior players in the group with that mindset. They think the exact same. Performances are great and they usually go hand in hand with points. Hasn’t happened for us yet, but we’re confident that will flip. We do have high expectations. Performances have to turn into points. The sob stories are frustrating but you don’t have time to dwell on it with a team of Rovers quality coming to Tolka.

“Bodies will be tired but it’s a great game for us, easy to get up for, you can’t be flat in a Dublin derby against the league champions on your home patch. I can feel that there is a change of mindset. Last year players might have turned up hoping to win a game like this, this year we’re turning up believing we will win the game.”

The sold out signs will be up at Tolka Park and the game is heading for a second successive home sell-out. Duff feels the big game occasion will suit his players and poured praise on Kian Leavy after the youngster rose to the occasion and netted the winner against the Gypsies:

“Really pleased for Kian, listen you can score as many goals as you want at Under 18 and Under 23 but its a different story in mens football playing for points, competitive games. It’s easy for lads to stay in the comfortable surroundings of an academy, the hard choice is coming over here and stepping up and he’s done that.

“I’m pleased for him. Can see him really grow over the past few weeks with us. I thought he did well in Dundalk on Monday. He’s such a technical player with real ability, he has that street footballer in him, as if the ball is stuck to his feet. He’s been great for us and I know we’ll see more from him. It’s particularly pleasing because he’s had to adjust to a position that’s foreign to him. He’s done well.

“Not just Kian, Evan Caffrey has been outstanding as well, same story. Not a natural position, but putting everything into it, every week. That’s what has helped connect the group of players with the people in the stands, I said it last week, they wear the hearts on their sleeves and I think you can see, win, lose or draw. What it means to the players, staff and everyone involved, that’s why fans connect with them.

“We’ve referenced it many times and we’ve made sure players are aware of it, the responsibility they have to this football club, these fans. Shels people live for these Friday nights, and we’re no different. The three biggest nights of my week are Friday, Monday and Friday.

“People have said it to me, hardcore fans, people here for years, they’ve commented on the atmosphere, the electricity at Tolka, the kind of buzz created in the Riverside last Friday has been too rare here over the past 20 odd years. This is such a special place, it’s built for big nights. We want to bring them back every time we play here and I’ve said it before many times, the fans have lifted us, now we’re doing everything to return that feeling to them, make them proud, and give them a reason to rock the place every Friday night.” 

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