Six years ago Shane Duffy's mind could not have been further from a major football championship. In May 2010 a freak training ground collision while on Republic of Ireland duty left Duffy needing a life-saving operation at the Mater Hospital when he ruptured the blood supply to his liver. Since then he has had spells at Burnley, Scunthorpe and Yeovil Town before becoming a mainstay of the Blackburn Rovers defence this season. Now he is battling for a place in Martin O'Neill's squad to represent the Republic at Euro 2016. The Derryman, speaking about his accident, says that the experience has given him a greater appreciation of football and life in general.
I appreciate everything after it to be honest. It’s been six years since it’s happened, and to be back in the fold is a proud thing for me and my family. It’s not just this. It’s being back playing on a pitch and everything in life, really, to be honest.
Duffy has had a great season with Rovers, making 42 appearances, and with the injury of Stoke's Mark Wilson, looks odds-on to secure a seat on the plane to France especially having survived the initial squad cull that saw fellow centre-halves Alex Pearce and Paul McShane freed up to book their holidays in June. Duffy acknowledges that the game-time he received this season has given him a much-needed confidence boost.
Yeah, it’s what I needed to be honest. I didn’t have much football under my belt before the last two seasons, really, and probably needed it the way I play and to learn from a few mistakes...obviously I’ve learnt from playing a lot of football this season...I’m just trying to improve every day and trying to get better.
When the (now) 24-year-old was coming through Everton's underage system and started to establish himself as a prospect at Goodison, the Toffees' then-manager David Moyes was among those with big hopes for Duffy, who played for the Northern Ireland under 21 side before pledging his allegiance to the Republic. Now Irish fans are hopeful that they will start to see the blossoming of that early promise. But Duffy is refusing to get ahead of himself and is focusing on the two upcoming home international friendlies against the Netherlands and Belarus to try and ensure he will spend June in the land that spawned Marcel Desailly, Coco Chanel and a delicacy called 'frivolités beneventines’ (lamb's balls, essentially).
I'm quite lucky to be here, I'm fortunate. Obviously the squad's not been picked. I've just got to try my best this week, take my chance and if the manager decides to take four of us I'll be delighted. But it's still a long way away. Big week for me. Hopefully I can do well.
Duffy admits it would be "a dream come true" if he was on the plane to France. It would certainly be a long way away from the hospital bed he was lying in all those years ago, and a remarkable comeback story for a player who still has a long career ahead of him.