Damien Duff invokes spirit of Buddha after Rovers win and reveals dressing room title discussion

Damien Duff says he enjoyed a Buddha like sense of calm after Shelbourne’s landmark win in Tallaght, but stressed that the surprise league leaders have been targeting a title tilt since the first day of pre-season.

A pair of Will Jarvis penalties delivered the Reds a maiden victory at the Dublin 24 stadium and a first away success against the Hoops since 2005. More pertinently, it leaves them six clear at the top of the table and nine ahead of the four in a row champions. Duff’s full time celebrations were restrained, a contrast from the response to an injury time winner away to St Patrick’s Athletic on Monday.

But he was happy to embrace questions about a push for the title in the aftermath, even though he still believes the holders are favourites. However, the former Irish international has not banned discussion of the subject in the dressing room, expanding on how he brought it up on the very first day of 2024 preparations.

“Has a title challenge been mentioned? Of course,” said Duff.

“I've no shame in saying that on the first day of pre-season in our first meeting I told them, it's not acceptable if we don't make a title challenge this year. Whether I was delusional or not, it was said, the seed was planted on the first day.

“How does it manifest? Wins always help. A last-minute winner on Monday, and then coming away to Rovers is the most difficult place in the country to win,” continued Duff, who was asked if a change of mindset was required to adapt to their new standing as they enter the second half of the campaign.

“To do something and be something, you must think like that. I’m a big thinker. It’s the Buddha who said that, isn’t it?,” he continued with a reference to the Asian founder of Buddhism, a spiritual figure. “I don’t know his proper name but what you think, you become. Whatever you think and you work hard enough at it and believe in it, there’s a good chance it comes off.”

Duff asserted that the nature of the victory had a considerable impact on his post-match mood with Shels two goals up against ten men going into the final quarter after Pico Lopes was sent off for yellow cards picked up on account of the two fouls on Matty Smith that presented Jarvis with penalty opportunities.

In fact, he was exasperated with his team’s performance with the numerical advantage.

“Richmond Park was a lot of drama, I feel like I’m not bouncing in here now, but no, it was calm. Amazing for the club and fans, a brilliant scalp but it’s done and we move on.

“Maybe I might be doing the fist pumps if it's a last minute winner but we were 2-0 up with 25 minutes to go and if anything I was more disappointed with the end of the game. We should be doing to them what they did to us. Yeah they're an absolutely amazing, amazing team one of the best teams this league has seen, they are dominating us on the edge of our box for 20 odd minutes at the end, we are losing duels on the side, giving up crosses and not keeping the ball.

“Maybe that's why I was calm and not willing to over celebrate. I'm not going to get carried away because they're still the best. I think I told you in Richmond we need a 100 point start. We've got nine. So we'll see.”

Duff showered praise on goalkeeper Conor Kearns, describing him as ‘the best in the country’ after a solid showing in keeping shots out combined with the ability to create chances at the other end with his booming kickout that continues to catch teams out. The first penalty came direct from a kick-out that caught out Hoops defender Josh Honohan and led to the Lopes foul on Smith.

He also made a goal in their Tolka victory against Rovers earlier in the season.

“We use Conor a lot,” he said. “In this day and age, people are fascinated with short build up and short passes as we are in open play, but Conor's right foot, the length of it, is an absolute weapon so we always set up to play long as well and if I was an attacking player I'd be looking to penetrate off it. It still catches opposition defences off guard. It’s not a surprise if we penetrate off a Conor Kearns goal-kick.”

His opposite number Stephen Bradley was exasperated that his team were caught out from that route after starting the game well.

“I think everyone in the league knows about it,” he said. “I think Waterford and Shels do it quite regularly, big kicks. The one in Tolka, we switched off. Tonight, we were in really good positions. Look, Josh has been outstanding for us since he came in. He's had to learn the job and play in different positions. You know what I think of him. But that's a basic error, he just has to head the ball. He'll learn from that and he needs to learn from it to make him better, but it's a basic error. We're in a good position, so just head the ball.”

Honohan and his defensive colleague Daniel Cleary were lost to injury in the aftermath, while Trevor Clarke was withdrawn as a precaution before the interval with Rovers losing their rhythm in the reshuffle that followed.

“We controlled the game, we made a basic error of not heading the ball for the penalty, and then the game became stop-start with the injuries and substitutions,” said Bradley.

“At second half, we spoke at half-time about being really tidy in possession and Markus (Poom) basically puts them in on goal with a sloppy pass and they get another penalty. When we went down to 10 men I thought we were excellent and controlled the game but you can’t give up the goals we give up."

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