For the Republic of Ireland, it was a win in Wales manufactured by a Derry trio. Martin O’Neill’s men earned the victory thanks to James McClean’s magic second half strike, with the foundation for the win coming from the clean sheet due to Shane Duffy’s defending.
RTÉ named Duffy as their man-of-the-match with the 25-year-old Derryman outstanding in the game. “Maybe it was just my night to step up,” said Duffy when he spoke to the media after the match.
It was a backs-to-the-walls performance in Wales and Ireland dug out a result when it really mattered – a trait that is embedded it seems within Martin O’Neill’s squad.
“We’re not the prettiest team to watch but we’ve got the belief inside that we can beat anyone, literally beat anyone,” said Duffy whose shot on goal on the half hour was the closest Ireland came to scoring in the first period.
We will know the playoff opponents for the Boys in Green next Tuesday when Ireland will come out of the hat against either Italy, Croatia, Denmark or Switzerland.
“Whoever gets us in the draw, it’s not going to be easy [for them],” said the Brighton & Hove Albion defender. “Why not Italy? We’ve beaten them already.”
Duffy has developed into a key component of Ireland’s defence. It is a rich reward for the player who in 2010 after a freak incident during Ireland training required life-saving surgery on his liver.
Only Darren Randolph, James McClean and Stephen Ward had more game time in this qualifying campaign. Also away in Georgia last month, Duffy scored his first international goal.
He has been part of the recent notable Ireland victories – the win over Italy in the Euros and the two key away wins against Austria and Wales.
“Big games like that, we thrive off. We knew we had to soak up a lot of pressure early on and we did that. They got frustrated to be honest and nothing really got through.
“We knew we would always get a chance with the forward players we’ve got. It’s a great feeling. Sometimes when you’re the underdogs you come through and to come away to Wales and win is a great feeling.
“We’re in the play-offs now, let’s bring it on.”
Wales put huge pressure on Ireland in the closing period of the game but Duffy and all his teammates stood strong.
“It wasn’t just me. I had so much protection. The lads in front of me were outstanding. [Ciaran] Clark was amazing, Cyrus [Christie] and [Stephen] Ward. [Darren] Randolph pulled off a great save.”
“I kept saying to myself we aren’t conceding here. Everyone defended. Every ball that was dropping [David] Meyler, Harry [Arter] and Jeff [Hendrick] in front of us done so much protection.
“Every ball we won, we were on the second ball, and James [McClean] has so much energy, and big ‘Murph’ up front was brilliant.”
Duffy reserved special praise for his fellow Derryman James McClean who top scored for Ireland with four goals in the campaign – all scored away from home.
“McClean was outstanding, as always. He has probably been our best player in the campaign. He works hard. What you see is what you get from him. He is a top lad and deserves everything he gets.”
And as for the Derryman in charge of the team? “The boss is brilliant,” said Duffy about Martin O’Neill. “He’s had so many big-game experiences.
“He just makes you calm and gets you up for it. He lets you know how important it is and everyone listens when he speaks.
“It’s great to learn off him. It’s great for me personally. He’s given me a chance to go out there and perform on a big stage.”