Seven years ago, Shane Duffy lay in intensive care in the Mater Hospital after suffering life-threatening injuries in a freak training accident.
The then 18 year old centre back damaged the blood supply to his liver during a training match between the Republic of Ireland development squad and the amateur side.
The laceration to his liver almost cost Duffy his life, but thankfully, the Derry native has gone from strength to strength since his recovery.
Duffy was snapped up by Everton when his performances for Northern Ireland at an underage tournament in 2007 impressed Toffees’ boss David Moyes.
He made his first team debut as a substitute in the Europa League in 2009, and started the Merseyside club’s next European clash at home against BATE Borisov.
Highly rated at Goodison, the towering centre half was also called into the Republic of Ireland senior squad for training.
Then his freak accident occurred, costing the defender 18 months of his career, and almost his life.
“It took me a year and a half, maybe even two years to get back to where I was,” he reflected earlier this year. “But as a centre-half, if I don’t get stuck in, I don’t have a career, so I just get on with it.”
The injury understandably halted Duffy’s progress. He made his Premier League debut in 2012 against Spurs at White Hart Lane off the bench, and made his first top flight start against Aston Villa a few days later.
However, the powerful defender failed to break into the first team on a regular basis, and he was loaned out to Burnley, Scunthorpe and Yoevil Town.
In 2014, the year in which he made his senior international debut against Costa Rica, Duffy left Everton for Blackburn on a permanent deal.
He quickly established himself as a key player at Ewood Park, and was shortlisted for the Championship Player of the Month early in his first season at the club. He went on to make 63 league appearances for the club, and showcased his ability in both boxes by scoring five goals.
Duffy was mainly a fringe player for Ireland in the lead up to Euro 2016, but Martin O’Neill turned to the dominant Derry defender after the boys in green were ripped apart by Belgium in the second group stage game.
John O’Shea and Ciaran Clark were dropped in favour of Duffy and Richard Keogh for Ireland’s must-win final group game against Italy, and both impressed at the back as Robbie Brady’s now famous header fired Ireland into the knockout stages.
It was only Duffy’s second start for the boys in green, but he has been a mainstay since.
Duffy and Keogh struggled to shackle the world-class Antoine Griezmann in the 2-1 defeat to France, but Duffy has certainly improved since then. He has emerged as Ireland’s best centre half, and has formed a largely reliable partnership with Ciaran Clark.
He is still young, and was guilty of switching off for Moldova’s goal in Ireland’s 3-1 away win, but Duffy has enormous potential.
He rose highest to head home his first international goal against Georgia in Tbilisi in September, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Ireland from coming home with a disappointing 1-1 draw.
His inspirational performance in Cardiff against Wales epitomised all that is good about the courageous, dogged defender. The Derry native is an old fashioned, no nonsense centre back, who loves a tackle and is superb in the air. His aerial prowess is also key for Ireland’s attacking set pieces, usually delivered by Robbie Brady’s cultured left foot.
Duffy managed 19 clearances in that 1-0 victory over Chris Coleman’s side, and dealt with any Welsh threat assuredly and thoroughly.
The former Everton academy graduate has also gone from strength to strength at club level.
After his impressive performances at the Euros, he managed to score two own goals and get sent off in his final game for Blackburn in August 2016, before signing for Brighton in a £4 million deal shortly afterwards.
The 25 year old has formed an excellent defensive partnership with Lewis Dunk for Chris Hughton’s side, who earned Premier League promotion last season after letting Newcastle pip them to top spot in the Championship in the dying weeks of the season.
Duffy has carried his good form into the Premier League, and ranks in the top three defenders in the league in terms of blocks and clearances.
Jamie Carragher is certainly impressed with the imposing centre half, and heaped praise on the Irish international after the Seagulls’ 3-0 away win over West Ham last night.
“We don’t see enough of this in the Premier League now, we want a lot more from our centre-backs, that’s the way the game is going, but there’s nothing better for me in the role that I played to see defenders defend like this, and want to defend,” the former Liverpool defender said on Friday.
“Doing everything they can to stop that ball going into the back of the net.”
“A lot of their success will be built on those two centre-backs. If they are going to stay in the league they need to keep them fit, and if they perform they are going to give Brighton a fighting chance.”.
Duffy will be a hugely important player for Martin O’Neill in Ireland’s two-legged play-off with Denmark, and the Irish defence will be built around the Brighton man for years to come.
At 25, Duffy has yet to enter his prime, but the Derry defender is certainly playing the best football of his life for club and country.