Home is where the Heart is for Damien Duff – but business comes first in derby clash

Melbourne City’s star import Damien Duff sucks in his cheeks and his mouth forms in a half smile when asked whether he would consider staying on for another season in the A-League.
Shanghai night field

The Irishman admits that, perhaps to his surprise, he has loved his time in Melbourne, where he arrived in the depths of last winter to prepare for a season with a club that was reinventing itself in an emerging league on the other side of the world that he was used to – a world of big-name players, glamorous clubs and top-flight competition.

So much so that the Victorian capital would, he says, be one of the few places in the world that he might consider settling – if his desire to return home to his native Ireland were not so great.

Not even an A-League championship and the lure of a last hurrah in the Asian Champions League would, says Duff, be enough for him and his wife Elaine and children Woody and Darcy to stay.

Home is where the heart is for the Dublin-born Duff, and he intends to return to Ireland to play one final season in the local Eirecom League, the Irish national championship, and then study for his coaching badges with a view to eventually moving into football management.

“It’s on my bucket list. I have always said I will go home and play in the Eirecom league. I am a proud Irishman so I will eventually finish playing in my national league,” he said in a media round table leading up to Saturday’s Melbourne derby.

“For my two kids and my wife it’s been brilliant for them, a great eye opener [to be in Australia]. The one city that’s touched me the most throughout my career, I would probably say Melbourne. If I was going to stay somewhere and live outside Dublin it would be Melbourne, even though I have probably spent 10 years in London. It’s a great place, sport crazy and I have loved it.

“We are going to raise our kids in Ireland. That’s the plan, to go home. I have loved it here and this is probably the spot that I will always come back on holiday.”

The sandy-haired winger turns 36 in three weeks, so the end is coming.

But when he does hang up his boots Duff will have some wonderful memories from a decorated career that began some 20 years ago when a quiet young kid from Ballyboden, South Dublin – the small town where AFL legend the late Jim Stynes began his Gaelic football career –  moved to England to sign as a junior with the then recently crowned English champions Blackburn Rovers.

In the subsequent years Duff won a League Cup with Blackburn, two Premier League Championships with Chelsea, reached the final of the Europa League with Fulham and played in a World Cup for his country, for whom he eventually amassed 100 caps.

But to spend time with him, you wouldn’t know of these achievements unless you did your research first.

By his own admission not the most voluble of characters, or a man who likes bothering overmuch with the media, Duff is the archetypal quiet achiever who has always preferred to let his deeds speak louder than his words.

It has been an approach that has worked well – with the exception of a miserable three-year stint in the Premiership with Newcastle in which he was often injured and ended with the team being relegated to the Championship.

Through it all, it is his time with Chelsea (2003-06) that sticks out as the most successful.

Signed by Claudio Ranieri, he was part of the Blues team that was subsequently coached by the Italian’s successor, Jose Mourinho, to Chelsea’s first championship in 50 years when they took the Premiership crown in 2004-05. A year later they repeated the triumph, establishing Chelsea as a Premiership force who would ultimately go on to become one of Europe’s major clubs.

In that second season, with Duff on one wing and Dutch flyer Arjen Robben on the other, there was pace, skill and danger on both flanks, creating chances for the likes of Didier Drogba to put away.

“From a winning point of view, we are all competitive sportsmen, and it’s nice to go home in a good mood. So, from that point of view, you say Chelsea [was the best time] because you are winning every week and you go home with no worries.

“But they have all been equally good experiences, although saying that, Newcastle to a lesser extent. It was a long three years of my life which didn’t go too well on or off the pitch.  Sometimes moves just don’t work out.

“I had three years at Newcastle where I couldn’t walk down the streets because I was told all sorts of horrible things. Talk about character building, that was probably the best sort of character building I had, getting abuse on the street …,” he says with the sort of wry smile that those reflecting on an unpleasant experience can, with hindsight, afford.

It is a lingering regret for Duff that he got to play in only one World Cup. His was an era in the Ireland side when he often played up front alongside Robbie Keane, a contemporary from a young age, a pairing that gave the Republic a strike force that could threaten the best.

Ireland’s last appearance at the big show was in Korea/Japan 2002, when they made the round of 16, losing to Spain on penalties, and Duff recalls it fondly.

“It was massive … it doesn’t get any bigger. Every time I pull the jersey on it could bring a tear to your eye, is a special time in our life, and to do so at a World Cup was nice. It was unfortunate not to get to another one. It was before Spain became a super power, we battered them for most of the game, I remember that very clearly. “

Duff did his research on the A-League before he came in search of a football adventure to round out his career, so he hasn’t been surprised by the pace and level of the game.

“It’s been hard work, I won’t lie to you … I knew before I came it wasn’t going to be a holiday, and it certainly hasn’t been, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. I did my homework, and knowing Australian sport, I knew it wasn’t going to be a jolly up. I knew it was going to be physical.

“I suppose you do miss that English atmosphere, but really it’s been nothing but good and I have recommended it to Irish lads already and I think more and more will come out. “

If all goes to plan, this will be his last Melbourne derby – and he is looking forward to the occasion. “It’s certainly up there, when there’s 40 or 50,000, which there was at the Etihad last time, you can’t help but be excited. It’s a big game, and I have played in some big ones, but the Melbourne derby is up there. When there’s 40,000 people at it, you don’t have to say much more than that.”

This entry was posted in 杭州桑拿. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.