Shane Duffy: Road trip back from Celtic helped me revive Brighton career

Shane Duffy on rebuilding his Brighton career: "I had a drive from Glasgow to Brighton that took me seven hours, so I had a long think. I spoke to myself, spoke to people I trust, and over the summer surrounded myself with good people"; watch Brighton vs Watford on Saturday Night Football

Shane Duffy

A seven-hour drive from Glasgow to Brighton isn't particularly exciting. It's a good time to reflect. And it could end up proving the perfect catalyst for Shane Duffy to rebuild his career.

Duffy is a defender with a capital D. Brighton's player of the year in 2019 had found the two years since tough going, under boss Graham Potter, until his man-of-the-match showing in Saturday's win at Burnley on the Premier League's opening weekend.

"In the summer, I would have thought that was a million miles away," a rejuvenated Duffy told Sky Sports as Brighton gear up to face Watford live on Saturday Night Football this weekend. "It was such a proud feeling. On Saturday night I got home, sat down and reflected on it - I'm really, really happy."

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A common view is that his old-fashioned defending is incompatible with Potter's passing philosophy. That has always been denied by the manager, although actions have spoken rather more loudly than words: the towering centre-back was given only 12 league starts across Potter's first two years in charge.

There has been more to it than style. Duffy was shipped off to boyhood club Celtic on loan last season, but joining a club in crisis, dealing with the passing of his father and living alone in Glasgow during a global pandemic did nothing to rebuild his confidence after losing his place at Brighton. The spell was mistake-ridden and after February 14 he failed to make another league start.

Duffy's career was at a crossroads, having already hit "rock bottom" as he recently told Sussex Live, until the 28-year-old realised things had reached now-or-never territory as he left Celtic's Lennoxtown training base for the final time and faced the long journey back to England's south coast, where his prospects appeared just as rocky.

He said: "I was going through a difficult time off the pitch. That affected training every day, and then affected a Saturday, and the fans didn't deserve that - I put my hands up and apologise for that. There were a lot of things wrong, and the table spoke for itself at the end of the season.

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"I had a drive from Glasgow to Brighton that took me seven hours, so I had a long think. I spoke to myself, spoke to people I trust, and went over the summer and surrounded myself with good people.

"I let some people go who weren't the best thing for me at the moment. That's what sort of happened, I surrounded myself with good people, made better decisions off the pitch, and I can feel myself improving on the pitch already."

The phrase 'the harder you work, the luckier you get' seems appropriate. A month ago, Duffy looked likely to head out for another loan move but the departure of Ben White, plus injuries to Dan Burn, Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk kept him at the club, and gave him the opportunity to put in that stellar performance at Turf Moor on Saturday.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brighton's win over Burnley in the Premier League.

It was the kind of game he was built for. In a physical battle with Chris Wood, Duffy took on 13 aerial duels, almost double that of his defensive colleagues Webster and Dunk combined. He earned the praise of his manager, who suggested the defender's style gets a "bad press".

Time will tell whether that is a signal Potter's mind has been changed, but he has said White's replacement will be found "internally" and has already shown willingness to think outside the box with decisions like casting Dan Burn as a 6ft 7in marauding wing-back.

"Everyone thinks Brighton's back three just have to carry the ball and don't defend, but it's not like that at all," Duffy said. "I'm confident in my ability, I can play out as well, I might not be Franz Beckenbauer running out, but not many are.

"I've got strengths I can bring to the team for certain games, I'm always trying to improve and learn, and develop. Not a lot of people see day-to-day training. Looking at Dan, we know how good he is on the ball, you might not see it on a Saturday, but we know and the manager sees it every day.

"It's probably similar with me, the manager sees it and the players trust it. The manager's very open, he likes to mix and match it sometimes, and if he trusts you, he plays you. There might be some games where I'm not needed and some where I am, and I'm totally fine with that."

If Saturday's performance at Burnley was a relief, this weekend's homecoming against Watford will be on another level for Duffy if he retains his spot, as seems a distinct possibility.

It was the club's fans who picked him for that player-of-the-year award two years ago, and he has barely had a chance to thank them for their support in the time since. What better time than in front of a full house, packed out for the first time since March last year.

"I'm really excited, I haven't played in front of our fans for a long time now because of Covid and being out of the team the previous season," he smiled. "It's been a long time. I'm hoping I can play a part and see them there. It's going to be an emotional day."

There are moments in any player's career which go on to prove definitive - a goal in a big game or a penalty save in a shootout. Perhaps for Duffy, finally looking upward again, an afternoon on the M6 will prove just as important.

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