Shane Duffy reveals his first Celtic hero in lifelong love affair with Parkhead club
‘Everyone else was Larsson but I was big Bobo’
It almost feels preordained for Shane Duffy to have arrived at Celtic as a big, bruising defender who gives no quarter in the role. His upbringing seems to demand it.
The 28-year-old’s earliest memories of developing his love affair with the club he has joined in a one-year loan deal from Brighton can be traced to the turn of the millennium. These were the Henrik Larsson years for countless impressionable youths – and little wonder with the unerring brilliance of the Swedish striker.
Yet, in his hometown of Derry, Duffy was magically drawn to an altogether more earthy performer in Celtic colours – a player whose uncompromising style could offer a template for how the Republic of Ireland captain operates.
“I loved big Bobo when he played for Celtic,” said Duffy when asked to name his first footballing hero. That’s probably my first fond memory of properly supporting Celtic. I had Bobo Balde on the back of my top. Balde six, I think it was, the yellow top.
“Everyone loved big Bobo, didn’t they? I just went along with it. You don’t really study football when you’re that age, do you? Everyone else was Larsson, but I was big Bobo. I was always dead tall and skinny, but I filled out more when I went to England. I was always good at heading the football, I’d throw myself at anything. It was a bit stupid. Big Bobo could head it, too.”
Duffy’s genuine heartfelt allegiance to Celtic is best illustrated by the fact he never tries to oversell it. He may have first come over from Ireland to games almost 20 years ago, but the 28-year-old doesn’t attempt to present those initial jaunts as bringing some blinding epiphany.
“You doubt that it could happen, so to actually get here and get the kit on is a special moment,” he said of his footballing homecoming, but this hardly made for a first in pulling on the colours. “My Ma went through a few quid on tops when I was a kid, I had them all up until I was about 12 or 13, then moved over to England [to join the Everton academy] when I was 14.
“In Ireland you get the boat over, and we came to the match, and I’ve got very fond memories. I just remember it being so loud, and I thought it was mental. I was probably more worried about the ice cream or something rather than the result. It was an adventure, it was like going to Butlin’s. We’d get the boat over for the weekend, then the boat back. We’d do it maybe a couple of times a year as a family. It was good the very first time he took me to a match, it was class.
“My first game I think was Aberdeen, with my Da, my Uncle. They brought me here. I would have been eight or nine. I’ve been to a few to be fair, but the last time I was here we got beat 5-0 off PSG [in 2017], so that wasn’t great.”
Neither was last season for Duffy. He played only 13 full 90 minutes for the club as Graham Potter, pictured right, looked to others for starting berths. He never strayed from his manager’s affections, though. It may, though, seem curious that the man now being viewed as the key to Celtic being able to revert to the 3-5-2 that served Neil Lennon’s men so well in the post-Christmas period of the Covid-19 abridged season, was considered not to fit with the back-three formation Potter wanted to develop. Yet, even if he is not a ball-playing centre-back that the modern game so often seems to demand, Duffy would see no issue with linking up with the more cultured, and less aggressive, pairing of Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer.
“It’s just down to opinion,” the centre-back said. “I can honestly say that he [Potter] and I have the best relationship you could probably have between a player and a manager. I have so much respect for the man and what he is. He is probably going to the very, very top. But you can’t please everyone. He was honest, he told me the truth and I respected that. So I gave him my word that I would give everything to him and be there for everyone and not get disappointed. Of course I wanted to play every week, but I was happy with him being honest and telling me the truth from day one. Some managers wouldn’t. You have to just take it like a man and keep working hard. I tried to get back in. It was his decision and I respected it.
“The first game of last season, we won 3-0 away at Watford with a back three. People have their opinions on me, which is allowed. I’m more than comfortable playing in a back three. I actually quite enjoy it. You’ve got two other centre-halves beside you. The thing with a back three is that you have to work on it. You can’t just go, right, we’re going to play a back three this week. It doesn’t work because you have to have the right players to play the system. I don’t really know what the thoughts of the manager [Lennon] are yet. I’m comfortable playing in a back three.
“I feel I’ve got this mentality of never giving up. I want to be a winner. I know they have a lot of winning mentality here so I have to bounce off that as well. I’ll never give up. I’m a defender who wants to keep the ball out of my net first and foremost then build from there. I’m probably not the prettiest on the eye but I’ve got lot more to my game than that.”
Duffy admits he feared he would never get the chance to show the best of himself in Celtic colours.
“I had to make the right choice but I feel I’m at a good age to come here. Playing for Celtic something I’ve wanted to do my whole career. I wanted to come here when I was at a good age where I can be successful. I’m delighted with the decision . It’s huge for me, this is a huge club. Career-wise, that will be decided next season but this season the focus is here.”
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