FOOTBALL: Duff says Shels will ‘bounce’ into Euro challenge

by Jonny Stapleton
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Damien Duff expects his Shelbourne players to bounce into a bouncing Tolka Park.

The League of Ireland top flight front runners end an 18-year exile from European competition when they contest Europa Conference League action.

Anticipation around Drumcondra has risen steadily and is expected to build to a noisy crescendo as the Shels faithful get to sample UEFA action for the first time since a 2006 Intertoto Cup campaign.

Those expectancy levels and the fact that Shels go into the two-legged affair against Gibraltar side St Joseph’s as favourites could breed pressure, but Duff doesn’t quite see it that way.

The former Irish international says excitement is in the air and suggests his players will tap into it.

“There is such excitement about it. People talk about pressure et cetera, but I don’t feel it. I’m sure we’ll bounce into next Thursday,” he said.

Shels are expected to prolong their stay in Europe beyond the first round, although Duff isn’t taking anything for granted.

He admits he knows little of St Joseph’s after finding it very difficult to get a recce done on the team currently in their off-season. The former Blackburn, Chelsea and Fulham wide man also notes teams at a higher level have found things rocky at the home of the Rock of Gibraltar, making the home game all the more important.

“Are we expected to win? Probably, but I don’t even look at that. I’ll fully respect the opponent. They have Gibraltar internationals in their team and Ireland have struggled historically against Gibraltar. Teams do struggle over there. So our home game is absolutely massive,” said Duff.

“I think Brendan Rodgers’ first game at Celtic, they lost 1-0 to the Imps. So I know how difficult it is. I’ve watched the Ireland games there, I know the type of games they are, the ball is hardly in play, it’s like a game of basketball at times. Like I said, it’s two legs, it’s over 180 or 200 minutes and it starts this week in Tolka.

“Granted, you are saying we are favourites, but we – myself and the lads – will not disrespect them at all.”

Ironically Duff and co may not know the exact level of respect to give the traveling team considering all they have had to go off is YouTube clips.

There could be a learning on the job element to the continental clash.

“It’s a bit difficult. There’s nothing really online that you can get, so it’s more pulling stuff off YouTube, which can be difficult, and word of mouth. But who they’re signing, they are keeping their cards close to their chest. As much as I’d like to think we’ll do a lot of work, we really won’t know their strength and their power until we see them Thursday.”

Shelbourne manager Damien Duff before the SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division match between Shelbourne and Sligo Rovers at Tolka Park in Dublin. Photo by Tom Beary/Sportsfile

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