DFC | ‘I’m happy here, I’m settled here and I’m playing well’ — Michael Duffy talks about his decision to stay at Dundalk FC

Lilywhites winger recently signed a two-year deal at Oriel Park

Michael Duffy says that family, friends and winning trophies were all behind his decision to sign a new contract with SSE Airtricity League champions Dundalk.

The 24-year-old put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the Lilywhites just minutes after they sealed the title against St Patrick’s Athletic two weeks ago. It put an end to months of speculation linking the Derryman with a move away from Oriel Park and he told Dundalk Sport that playing in a team he loves, surrounded by the people he loves, were his main reasons for staying put.

“It was a big decision. I didn’t know what to do really, whether to stay or wait it out and give it another go,” he admitted. “In the end, I felt that staying here was the best decision for me. I’m happy here and I’m enjoying my football so much. We’ve won the league, the squad is getting stronger and we have Champions League football next year. Next season could be massive for us and I wanted to be a part of that.

“We’ve a great team here at the minute. Everybody gets on so well and it’s great that we all look like we’ll be together again next season. You see teams changing every year but we’ve sort of kept the same group as last year and it looks like the changes will be minimal going into next season.”

The news that Duffy had committed his future to Dundalk was something of a bolt from the blue. Speaking in September, the former Derry City star said that he was content to wait until the season was over to mull over his options but as the weeks wore on, and the duration of his contract began to whittle down, he said it became that little bit harder to park it at the back of his mind.

“I’ve had to think about it a lot over the past month because I was coming towards the end of my contract. There were rumours and a few teams were mentioned and if I had played the contract out there might have been more concrete offers put in front of me but the whole talk of going to England never really appealed to me that much. Some players can’t wait to go but I wasn’t thinking about that. I’m happy where I am.”

By his own admission, Duffy has settled nicely in Dundalk. The presence of two close friends, Patrick ‘Fats’ McEleney and Dean Jarvis, is a big help while his native Derry is only a two-hour drive away. Sometimes the little things are the most important, especially for a player who endured a frustrating spell in Scotland after signing for Celtic in 2015. McEleney’s six-month nightmare with Oldham is another example of how things can go sour across the water and Duffy said that uncertainty is something he is keen to avoid at this stage of his career.

“I enjoyed my time in Glasgow but I was out on loan twice at Alloa and Dundee and whenever you go across there, you don’t really know how it’s going to go. You could get straight into a team or you could end up being sent out on loan from England to Scotland or the other way around. You just don’t know what will happen whereas I’m happy here, I’m settled here, I’m playing well and I’m close to Derry. It’s hard to move away from that, especially when you’ve been there and it doesn’t work out for you. I’m not saying I will never try it again, I’m only back from Scotland less than two years, but at this moment in time I think the best thing for me is to stay here.

“Everybody told me that if I was going to go to then I had to make sure it was the right club and that everything was set out for me but, even then, you don’t know how things will turn out. You’re taking a chance and I didn’t want to do that. I’m happy here. I’m progressing as a player and the club is progressing off the field. You could go over to England and you might be seen by more but Dundalk is getting bigger and bigger. It’s a hard club to leave.”

It remains to be seen if Duffy’s decision will have an impact on his international hopes. Martin O’Neill wants him in the Republic of Ireland squad but has always expressed a desire for League of Ireland players to operate at a higher level. Daryl Horgan battled with a similar dilemma back in 2016 and somewhat reluctantly, left friends, family and a close knit group of Dundalk players behind to join Preston in a bid to enhance his international prospects but Duffy is hoping to break the mould and become an Irish regular while plying his trade at home.

“I don’t know to be honest. It might,” was his honest reply when asked if staying with Dundalk might hinder his chances of a call-up. “The Irish team is full of players who are playing in the Championship and at levels that are higher than Dundalk but Martin has come to watch me play and he said he likes me as a player so hopefully he still feels that way.”

After playing at U21 level for Northern Ireland, Duffy is currently in the process of declaring for the Republic. His international transfer is unlikely to go through before the fixtures with Northern Ireland and Denmark in November but Duffy is willing to be patient and at this moment in time, he said that club comes before country.

“I signed the clearance form a couple of weeks ago and that takes a while so it’s just a waiting game at the minute,” he said. “There’s a few internationals in November after the FAI Cup final and it would be unbelievable to get into the squad for those but my main thought at the minute is to finish the league and win the FAI Cup with Dundalk.”

Duffy will collect his first league winners medal on Friday night when Dundalk’s coronation ceremony takes place after the final home game of the season against Sligo Rovers. The celebrations will no doubt carry on long into the weekend but there is business to attend to first. A win would see Dundalk break the all-time points record set by Bohemians in 2008, a message that Stephen Kenny has been hammering home to his players for the past week!

“Aye, he has been big time,” smiled Duffy. “He’ll definitely make sure we’re not in a mindset where we think that everything’s done and we can just relax until the FAI Cup final. We’ve broken so many records this year already but this one would be massive and if we can go on and beat Sligo and Bohemians the week after then it will make it harder for any team to do that record again.

“It’s the last home game, we’re lifting the trophy and there’s a record to be broken. It’s a really big night and that’s the reason I came here,” he continued. “When I was in Scotland I used to talk to ‘Fats’ and he’d be telling me about how good it was to win the league. I’ve never been close to it before really. I think I was in the top four with Derry one season but I was never in a title race. Obviously, it was disappointing coming to Dundalk last year after the lads won three-in-a-row and seeing Cork win it. That made me even more hungry to win the league this year.”

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