By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Even if it was a fairly bloodless coup, there were reasons to be cheerful following the Republic of Ireland’s 2-0 victory over Paraguay at Lansdowne Road last Wednesday. Most of all, Damien Duff came of age as an international player.
For a while, the young Blackburn Rovers winger has had to live in the shadow cast by another of Ireland’s precocious teenagers, Robbie Keane.
While Keane has been stealing the headlines even from his more famous namesake, Roy, Duff has struggled to impose himself. But against Paraguay, he delivered a performance full of trickery and class that had the opposing defense in turmoil. To cap an impressive evening’s work, Duff worked his magic on a bumpy pitch which arguably was not even good enough for rugby.
"A player like Damien is judged on the number of quality crosses he gets in," said manager Mick McCarthy, "and the other night I counted at least seven. I think he has shown he can handle this level now."
Roy Keane admitted he never liked to single any one player out after a game, but he thought 19-year-old Duff deserved special mention. "He did some real damage to the right side of Paraguay’s defense," Keane said.
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Elsewhere, there was good news for Gary Breen, who returned successfully alongside Kenny Cunningham at the center of the defense and once again, Denis Irwin, Mark Kinsella and Roy Keane were outstanding.
If Steve Staunton comes back in at left back for Ian Harte, then McCarthy has a ready made lineup for Ireland’s vital European championship qualifying game against Macedonia in Skopje on March 27.