Standing on the shoulders of Paul McGrath against Italy and Richard Dunne against Russia, Shane Duffy had his coming out party, so to speak, as Ireland took a valuable point from Denmark in Copenhagen.
This game was typical of the player Duffy has become for both club and country in the last year or so, as he put his body on the line in both boxes, with a dominant display.
Over the last number of qualification campaigns, Ireland have seen a leader step out from the crowd and deliver for the Boys in Green when they have needed it most.
In 2014/2015 as Martin O’Neill’s side clamoured towards Euro 2016 it was striker Jon Walters whose goals, endeavour and work rate helped Ireland reach the tournament finals in France.
In 2016/2017, although Ireland didn’t reach the World Cup in Russia, James McClean emerged from the pack as their talisman scoring crucial goals, including the winner against Wales which sent the Boys in Green to the playoffs.
We’re going to explore Duffy’s contribution in both boxes, beginning with his defensive display which featured hallmarks of the big man’s game including body-on-the-line blocks, towering headers and a commanding presence at the heart of the Irish back four.
From the off it was apparent that this was going to be a physical affair, Enda Stevens’ heavy challenge on the Danish right was the first to set the tone.
A minute and a half into the game and Duffy reminded the Danes of just how tough a test they would be in for, flying in to win the ball high up the pitch, putting into practice McCarthy’s gameplan early and, to use the old GAA adage, “letting his man know he was there.”
Ireland played a promising brand of football in the game having their fair share of possession and putting together some nice passages of play but Denmark looked dangerous going forward forcing Duffy and his partner Richard Keogh into action frequently.
In the below clip Middlesbrough’s Martin Braithwaite found himself in space, too much than he arguably should have been allowed, in the Irish box.
Duffy had been tracking striker Nicolai Jorgensen who was making space in the area but had the defensive instincts to immediately help Keogh when he saw the danger occurring, with Seamus Coleman coming in narrow to track the number nine.
Shane Duffy in the right place at right time to block Braithwaite, but Danes getting closer #denirl #rtesoccer https://t.co/xyydabdL7Y pic.twitter.com/Hd2UsJPb80
The Derryman was putting his body on the line again in the first half, this time to deny Yussuf Poulsen in what was a tremendous defensive sequence, highlighting his intelligence and knowledge of the position.
As we see below Eriksen’s ball into the box was met by Thomas Delaney who had found space between the lines, a staple of the Dortmund man’s game.
Duffy firstly made a textbook block, but it’s what he does after this which is most impressive, knowing he’s stopped the initial chance, the Brighton man is sharp to the breaking ball and gets to it first, denying Poulsen what would’ve been a guilt-edged opportunity to find the net.
Duffy’s moment of the first half though was without doubt his inch perfect challenge on Christian Eriksen just outside the edge of the area.
The defender had to get the tackle right or he would have either taken himself out of the game had he mistimed it and Eriksen made a move, or he would have given the Spurs man a dead-ball chance from 18 yards out, something you can’t afford to give a player of his ilk.
It’s also important to note Duffy pointing to his captain Coleman urging him to track the onrushing Jorgensen, an indication that despite having one of the finest playmakers in Europe running at him the defender is seeing the bigger picture for his team.
Our last highlighted moment of defensive work came in the second half when Ireland were decidedly under the cosh and Denmark were in the ascendancy.
Notice Duffy doesn’t actually make the block from Poulsen as he breaks into the box; that’s Conor Hourihane. What the defender does is, knowing he’s outnumbered, splits the two attackers trying to cut off the ball to the striker while edging Poulsen away from goal.
When he eventually gets his effort away, with thanks also to Hourihane, the angle isn’t ideal for a strike.
We have two instances of Duffy’s quality in the opposing box to highlight as he proved Mathias Jorgensen right and turned out to be his usual threat from set pieces.
The first came in the opening 45 minutes, a lovely delivery from Conor Hourihane was almost met by the big defender, but it fell instead into the grateful hands of Kasper Schmeichel.
Delayed Conor Hourihane free-kicks always spell danger. Shane Duffy's double connection unfortunate but credit Schmeichel for holding his ground #denirl #rtesoccerhttps://t.co/xyydabdL7Y pic.twitter.com/6KoLiDpCKW
What Duffy does so well here is his ability to get around the back of the Danish defence, timing his run to perfection and showing great desire to get to the ball before anyone else.
The Danes were let off the hook but it should have been a big warning sign for them and certainly shouldn’t have been allowed happen again as it did in the last five minutes.
The home side simply did not learn their lesson and when the ball leaves the cultured left foot of Alan Judge, Duffy is behind his defender with no player having eyes on the Brighton man.
One could argue though that the Danes could have had 20 defenders in the area and none of them were getting to the ball ahead of the 27-year old, who rose above everyone to power home the header.
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What also deserves recognition is the fact that Duffy, as strong and powerful as he is, doesn’t foul as his fights for the ball. In a crowded penalty area and desperate for an equaliser it would have been so easy for him to force the issue and go a step too far.
Duffy’s intelligence in both boxes and his goal was the cherry on top of a polished and professional performance from the big defender.
Shane Duffy with a towering header to bring Ireland level1-1#denirl #rtesoccerhttps://t.co/xyydabdL7Y pic.twitter.com/hG3PbGkdi3
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