LILLE, France: A little over six years after almost losing his life in a training-ground accident with the Ireland team, defender Shane Duffy will probably start one of the biggest games of his career against France in the second round of Euro 2016.
In his first competitive international, the 24-year-old was the cornerstone of a superb Irish defensive display against Italy that sent them go through to the knockout stage of the Euros for the first time.
It was a far cry from his first call-up in May 2010, when an accidental clash with the goalkeeper of Ireland’s amateur national side in a training game ruptured the blood supply to his liver, necessitating life-saving surgery.
Right back Seamus Coleman, who captained Ireland against Italy in the absence of John O’Shea, paid tribute to Duffy after the Italy game.
“For him to be back on the pitch is massive, but to put in a performance like that was incredible,” he said.
Like manager Martin O’Neill, Duffy comes from the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, and following his solid display the coach is unlikely to drop him when Ireland meet host nation France in Lyon on Sunday.
Far from being disappointed at being pitted against one of the tournament favourites, Duffy, who says he does not remember the incident that almost cost him his life, is relishing the game.
“That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to play big teams, we’ve already played three great teams already. We’re waiting for it,” he said.
The Irish started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Sweden before being thrashed 3-0 by Belgium and they needed a late goal from Robbie Brady against a depleted Italy side to get through.
“The team spirit is brilliant, we always feel like we’re going to get that one chance,” Duffy said.
“It’s drilled into us, that never-give-up attitude, and we don’t. The team spirit is there, it’s just brilliant to be involved in.”
Duffy gave a dominant display in one of Ireland’s last pre-Euro friendlies against Netherlands in Dublin, but found himself consigned to the bench when the tournament started, with O’Shea and Ciaran Clark preferred at centre back.
But after the drubbing by Belgium, O’Neill dropped that pairing, replacing them with Duffy and Richard Keogh.
“I always kept myself ready and I always knew, an injury away or … you never know what happens in football,” he said.
Having said himself that he was a million miles from a place in the squad back in the spring, the Blackburn Rovers stopper is still trying to take in the fact that he is playing at the Euros.
“It’s hard to sum up at the minute. I didn’t play a minute in the qualifying, then football changes so quickly. I’m grateful to the boss for picking me and putting me in the squad,” he said.
“I’ve thrived off it, I thrive off big games and I think I did alright (against Italy).”
Having taken just 10 weeks to recover from his life-threatening injury, Duffy says he would welcome the chance to improve by going up against the best France has to offer.
“I can only do what I can do out there. I was comfortable (against Italy), I thought the whole team played well,” he said.
“I can always get better at things and improve, I’m still at an early stage in my career and the more times I can play, I can get better.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)