"This man shouldn't be playing football. He's made an almost Lazarus-like recovery from a ruptured artery. Lazarus was a great man but he couldn't play football like Shane Duffy."
- to paraphrase Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh
On a fine summer's day on the coastal town of Malahide outside Dublin, the Republic of Ireland senior squad were preparing for a behind-closed-doors friendly. Having already defeated the U23 League of Ireland team managed by Paul Doolin they were about to take on the amateur Republic of Ireland team. Giovanni Trapattoni prowled back and forth on the training ground, watching his troops train, pulling one or two of them to the side to emphasise his instructions. 18 year old Shane Duffy among them.
After defeating the under 23 Republic of Ireland team 1-0, Liam Lawrence said, “Shane Duffy is only a young lad but if he keeps his head down, he'll have a good future.”. The youngest player in the training squad, Duffy was part of a defence which included Darren O'Dea, Paul McShane and Greg Cunningham. His first performance in an Ireland shirt elicited the highest praise from football critics across the country. It would normally seem quite unusual to associate certain superlatives with a centre back, but the Evening Herald described the young Derry man as an unearthed 'gem'.
“... with top-class Irish central defenders very hard to find at the top level, Duffy is a real find. He proved that last night as the Derry native was the stand-out player in the Republic of Ireland senior side which defeated the U23s 1-0 thanks to a 21st-minute goal from Anthony Stokes.”
The Irish Star suggested that his maturity on the field belied his tender years, comparing him to two of Ireland's defensive stalwarts when they suggested that he was 'a Mick McCarthy with skills more akin to David O'Leary'. There was a resounding atmosphere of expectation surrounding the Everton youngster.
But disaster soon struck. Early into the first half of the game against the amateurs, Duffy fell to the ground clutching his chest after colliding with goalkeeper Adrian Walsh. Failing to stand, he rolled over, and repeatedly smacked the ground, writhing in agony. In what was a freak occurrence, he had ruptured his hepatic artery and were it not for the remarkable and courageous work of the FAI's medical team, Professor John O'Byrne and Alan Byrne, as well as the expertise of Gerry McEntee, Irish football may have suffered a terrible tragedy.
Amazingly however, Duffy left the hospital a mere week after the incident, walking out to greet reporters with a huge smile on his face. “It's Lazarus!”, exclaimed one excited journalist. Doctors suggested that he would not be playing again until December of 2010, at the very least. Duffy had other plans. Just thirteen weeks after surgery in August 2010, he was playing in a pre-season friendly against Sligo Rovers.
Fast forward just under 20 months and two short loan spells later and the Everton players travel to Villa Park to take on Aston Villa. 20 year old Shane Duffy among them. He looks set for his first Premier League start. His journey has been unbelievable.