Shane Duffy is living proof that hard work and dedication can still overcome adversity in football.
The Republic of Ireland defender will run out against Denmark in the Nations League on Saturday evening as an established member of Martin O’Neill’s strongest team and having last week signed a new five-year deal with club Brighton.
That is the 26-year-old’s reward for a refusal to accept the setbacks which came his way earlier in his career after a dream move to Everton as a teenager did not work out in the way he might have hoped.
Duffy said: “You have just got to have that mentality of not giving up. I had it tough part early on in my career, where it was going from high to low and I didn’t really know where I was going.
“But I just stuck at it and luckily enough, I found a club where they believed in me and they gave me the chance to play at the top level.”
Duffy made only a handful of senior appearances for Everton during a six-year stay at Goodison Park, the first of them as a 17-year-old substitute in a 1-0 Europa League victory at AEK Athens in December 2009.
He eventually found his feet during loan spells at League One Scunthorpe and then Yeovil in the Sky Bet Championship before being snapped up by Blackburn and then in August 2016, Brighton.
In the meantime, he had been handed a senior debut for his country in a 1-1 friendly draw with Costa Rica in Philadelphia in June 2014, some four years after undergoing life-saving surgery on his ruptured liver following a collision while training with then manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland squad.
He has since played his part in Brighton’s rise to the Premier League and the Republic’s qualification for and creditable participation in the Euro 2016 finals, and he admits he could not have dreamt of doing either during his darkest days in the game.
Duffy said: “Probably not, no. There were low days when you’re thinking, ‘Are you good enough?’. You question yourself.
“But you get yourself around good people, you work hard. All the lads will tell you, every day you work hard, be the best you can be and thankfully I found the right pathway that gave me a chance to bring the better side out of me.”
Republic of Ireland defender Shane Duffy celebrates his goal against Denmark (Brian Lawless/PA)
Improvement is very much the theme in the Ireland camp this week they prepare for a reunion with a Danish side which denied them a trip to this summer’s World Cup finals with a brutal 5-1 play-off second leg victory in Dublin in November.
That, coupled with a bruising 4-1 defeat in Wales last month, has left Duffy and his team-mates looking to go back to basics.
The defender, who scored the opening goal against the Danes, said: “We have always had quite a strong record over the two campaigns, defensively, but in the last two big games we have let a lot in.
“Maybe it is about getting back to basics and doing what we’re good at, rather than doing something we’re not really used to, so we have to go back, believe and trust the lads, and hopefully we will get back to keeping clean sheets.”