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Duff registers first win in management

Former Fulham winger Damien Duff recorded his first win as a manager last night as Shelbourne produced a professional performance to secure a 2-0 victory at Drogheda.

Second half strikes from Dan Hawkins and Mark Coyle – the latter a classic breakaway finish in injury time – sealed a maiden League of Ireland success for Duff, whose move into management made quite the splash in his homeland this winter. His charges had to weather a significant period of pressure from the home side before picking up a first win of the new season.

Duff takes first steps in management

There’s no doubt that Damien Duff’s move into management has given the League of Ireland a real boost. The former Fulham winger reversed course having initially turned down the chance to take over at Shelbourne and has thrown himself into the task of reviving the fortunes of the Drumcondra outfit – even if he admits the first task is to keep them in the top flight.

Duff’s probably given more interviews in the past week that during the entirety of his playing career. The Athletic’s piece last week featured an outline of his personality, whilst the Guardian’s Barry Glendenning observes a man who is already fully immersed in almost every activity at his new club. Duff is honest enough to admit his shortcomings – but insists he wants to be at Shelbourne long-term. His reign might have begun with a 3-0 defeat to St. Patrick’s Athletic, but Duff’s passion for the project seems infectious.

Duff, who was something of a revelation in his time as a pundit with RTE, hopes that he has given the press enough soundbites for a while as he prepares to quietly get on with the job. We wish him all the very best.

On this day in 2010, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff defeated Wolfsburg

There were many magical nights in Fulham’s incredible run to the Europa League final but one Craven Cottage evening that doesn’t get discussed as much as it arguably should is the night – eight years ago today – when Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff combined to defeat Wolfsburg in the quarter final first leg.

Going into the game, I remember being particularly worried that the Whites might not be able to match the phenomenal performance levels they produced in the previous round to complete that still scarcely believable comeback against the mighty Juventus. Wolfsburg, the reigning Bundesliga champions, travelled to London in good form despite mounting a poor defence of their title, which saw Felix Magath (remember him?) sacked, having won one of their last ten fixtures.

The first half was a nervy and rather pedestrian affair – as the enormity of the occasion had got to Roy Hodgson’s side. Fulham did well to largely nullify the visitors’ dangerous striking duo of Edin Dzeko and Grafite, but struggled to create many clear-cut chances themselves. It wouldn’t have been difficult to imagine Hodgson plaintively asking his players for more during the half-time team talk – and the Whites obliged with a much more adventurous and penetrative second half showing.

Zamora’s partnership with Zoltan Gera was pivotal to Fulham’s remarkable progress in Europe that year – and the pair combined beautifully to break the deadlock. The Hungarian’s perceptive pass to find Zamora floated fully 30 yards across field. It might not be remembered as instantaneously as his wonder strike against Shakhtar Donetsk, but it was a beautiful piece of finishing all the same – with the forward stirring yet more England talk with another lovely curler off his left side, making the most of a clever decoy run from Duff, who had intelligently drawn defenders away from the Fulham forward.

This correspondent felt Duff’s consistent excellence didn’t get the credit it deserved throughout that European adventure. His experience of the big occasion proved invaluable for an unfancied side who suddenly found themselves in the latter stages of the competition. Duff was always a handful for defenders – and the loss of that trademark pace that made him such a devastating winger at his peak – actually turned him into a more intelligent footballer. Like Zamora, the Irishman was on fire that year. Had the pair been fully fit for the final I firmly believe the outcome would have been different against Atletico Madrid.

It was Duff and Zamora who combined so smartly for the goal that gave Fulham some breathing space. The often underrated Paul Konchesky drove the Whites forward with an ambitious run down the left and Zamora held up the ball brilliantly before cushioning it perfectly into Duff’s pass – and the winger fired home clinically, as he often seemed to do, with a modicum of fuss from twelve yards. The joy was unconfined and the way Fulham were able to turn on at will against one of the continent’s leading sides convinced many that Hodgson’s men belonged at this level. People also forget that Simon Davies, lauded for his efforts later in that European run, turned in a great display at right back that night.

My match report that evening fretted about the consequences of Alex Madlung’s late header from a corner that handed Wolfsburg – whose squad featured future Fulham favourites Sasha Riether and Ashkan Dejagah – a precious away goal, but another Zamora moment of magic seconds into the return leg happily rendered that particular piece of sloppy defending academic. Those European nights at the Cottage were so special – and I’m sure I’m not the only Fulham fan who savours the memories of the Whites putting Europe’s best to the sword even now.

All you need is Duff

Damien Duff announced his retirement from professional football this afternoon at the age of 36, conceding that ‘my body has won the battle‘. But, my, what a fierce battle he waged. In full flight, Duff was a mesmerising sight – powering past full-backs at will – but, unlike so many wingers in the modern era, he showed the intelligence and adaptability to be remarkably effective once the blistering pace became less devastating. Those who measure success in medals will point to those back-to-back league titles with Chelsea and the League Cup win at his first club, Blackburn Rovers, but Duff’s energy, endeavour and spirit will always mean he’s fondly remembered at Fulham.

Like so many Roy Hodgson signings, news of Duff’s arrival in south west London – confirmed a couple of months into the 2009 season following Newcastle’s relegation from the top flight – was greeted with concern that he might have been past his prime. It took just twenty seconds of his Fulham debut to dispel any doubts. Duff, delighted to be reunited with Hodgson who had introduced him into the Rovers first team, was already bouncing up and down eagerly on the touchline before he replaced Zoltan Gera and wasted little time in introducing himself to the Craven Cottage faithful. He sped past his man and found Erik Nevland with a delicious cross, before Bobby Zamora buried a vital third goal.

The Irishman, a funny and warm figure who nonetheless shunned the limelight, quickly established himself as an indispensable member of Hodgson’s side. His first goal for Fulham was a winner against an Everton side who had threatened to run riot in the first half at Craven Cottage and his second sparked a spirited comeback from 2-0 down at Manchester City. Duff’s desire to prove himself again at the highest level was a driving factor in his effervescent displays – summoning up bundles of energy and working over opposing full-backs with intelligent runs and movement rather than the swift turn of foot that had characterised those days further down the Fulham Road.

Hodgson’s management of his tricky winger was inspired. He swapped him from flank to flank, often several times in a game, dovetailing with Simon Davies, and also made of the most of Duff’s almost insatiable appetite for hard work. Duff’s decisiveness around the opposite box was well known, but a key factor in Fulham’s unexpected European odyssey was his willingness to protect his full-backs, often the unheralded John Pantsil or Stephen Kelly. Whenever the Whites were in a tight spot, you could count on Duff’s uncanny ability to buy a cheap free-kick to relieve the pressure too.

Some of his performances were sensational. Duff was virtually unplayable when the Whites swept aside a depleted Manchester United 3-0 at the Cottage in December 2009, scoring the third goal with a delicious drive from the edge of the box – only days after Fulham had progressed from the Europa League group stages with a win in Basel. Perhaps his most crucial contribution to that most magical of runs came in the quarter-final when he thumped home an unstoppable shot from twelve yards after fine approach play from Zamora. We can only wonder what might have been in Hamburg had both men been anything approaching fully fit.

Duff’s productivity showed few signs of slowing down under Mark Hughes, despite Fulham’s slow start. A typically lung-bursting run down the left supplied the first equaliser in a pulsating draw with Manchester United in the first home game of the new campaign, but Duff really came into his own as Fulham climbed the table in the second half of the season and he came back from a few injury niggles. He scored the winner against his former club Newcastle – celebrating wildly in front of the Hammersmith End after taking an almighty hammering from the travelling fans – and went on to score five times in seven games, including a brace in a 3-2 win against Blackburn.

Under Martin Jol, Duff was one of the wider players to be gradually freed up from the defensive shackles that the Hodgson system had imposed. He scored twice in the early European qualifiers and was a regular in the side during the Dutchman’s first season at the helm. A regular source of assists, Duff found the net often in Europe but scored just three domestic goals throughout the whole campaign, the last of which came against Norwich in March. A week later, his creativity made two goals for Clint Dempsey at Bolton, during his 350th top flight appearance. He started the following season in fine form, beginning Fulham’s five-goal thrashing of Norwich and putting the Whites in front at Old Trafford from a quickly-taken free-kick. He scored the winner at Wigan in September, latching onto a fine pass from substitute Bryan Ruiz to fire home from the edge of the box.

Duff endured an injury-hit final season with Fulham, struggling to feature as the Whites’ thirteen year stay in the top flight came to an end. It was cruel that his final appearance in a white shirt came in that utterly forgettable FA Cup exit at the hands of Sheffield United, but Duff’s longevity as a Fulham player belied the understated manner of his departure; released quietly on a free transfer, admitting to an Irish newspaper that he’d shed tears over Fulham’s relegation and his inability to rescue his team from their plight. The decorated Irish international, who passed the hundred cap barrier whilst with the club, made 173 appearances for the Whites, scoring 22 goals, in five memorable years down by the River Thames.

In a rare interview, Duff described how ‘I like to think that I have found my feet again here at Fulham.’ He went on to laud the club’s ‘character’ and the finest tribute you can pay a footballer of such fine pedigree is that he typified the character at the heart of Fulham’s finest ever side. Some sportsmen lead through their words, Duff did in his actions. He hassled and harried, chased lost causes, skinned full-backs for fun and finished with aplomb. He did it all with a smile on his face – and forged a special bond with the Fulham fans, who might still wonder whether he could do a job on that troublesome right flank. Thanks for the memories, Damien.

Duff off down under

Former Fulham winger Damien Duff is poised to move to Australia and become the first major signing for the club bought by Manchester City’s owners.

The 35-year-old, who announced his decision to quit relegated Fulham this week, will join the A-League after the World Cup Finals.

The former Republic of Ireland international will become the first major signing for the newly-formed Melbourne City, who are hoping to change their name from Melbourne Heart in time for next season.

City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners, who have also purchased sides in New York and Japan since acquiring Manchester City six years ago, are hoping to build a competitive side Down Under. Heart are currently bottom of the A-League.

Duff, capped 100 times by Ireland, had been linked with a return to his home country and a role with Bray Wanderers in the SSE Airtricity League. But he has turned his back on a potential return to the Premier League or any moves to clubs in Europe, or even a drop to the Championship with Fulham, to move Down Under.

Duff will take a summer break with his family before moving to Melbourne for the second part of their season. He has had his pick of A-League sides, including Heart’s city rivals Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC and Perth Glory. City’s backers are prepared to match Duff’s wage demands.

His decision to quit Europe for a lucrative move to Australia will still come as a surprise, even though he made just 11 league appearances last season.

Former Chelsea and Newcastle midfielder Duff left Craven Cottage after five years and nearly 200 games, following their relegation from the Premier League, and was looking for a new challenge.

‘It was time for everyone, for me and the club to part ways,’ he said. ‘It’s sad but that’s the way it is.

‘I’ve matured as a person and a player at Fulham.

‘Since I’ve been here I’ve got married, had two kids, so it has been a special time in my life and I stand by what I’ve said before that my most enjoyable time in football has been at Fulham.’

But Duff, who is signing an initial two-year deal, will be by far the biggest foreign star Melbourne has attracted since the A-League was founded 10 years ago.

Former Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell is currently playing for the club, who are managed by Dutch coach John van’t Schip.