Dundalk FC supporters were given a New Year’s boost on Sunday night with the news that Michael Duffy had signed a new contract to remain at Oriel Park for a fifth season.
The 26-year-old originally joined the Lilywhites from Celtic in 2017 and has been a crucial part of the side in recent seasons, even winning the PFAI Player of the Year award in 2018.
Speaking after confirmation of the deal, the club’s new sporting director Jim Magilton – who previously worked with the Derry man with the Northern Irish U-21 side – said he was thrilled to have Duffy back on board for 2021.
“My past experience with Michael was working with the U-21 squad so I knew the raw materials that he had and I knew that fine tuning Michael would take him to another level.
“You were thinking that would happen when he went to Celtic but with the disappointment of returning to Dundalk, some players come back from that experience and actually fall out of love with the game but it actually inspired Michael to do really good things.
“I personally was delighted that he chose to re-sign because he has been one of the best players in the league, there’s no question about that. He is a match winner on his day so securing his priority was a top priority for us – for the club, for the directors and for the chairman.
“I have to say the chairman was fantastic in the negotiations, obviously backed by the directors. We made Michael an offer and he has accepted it so we’re just chuffed to bits.”
Duffy’s new contract is for one year. While Dundalk had originally offered him a longer stay, it was the player’s preference to only commit for a further 12 months. Magilton said he had no issue with this and confirmed he would be ramping up negotiations with every player the club saw in their long term plans as soon as next season begins.
“It’s a one year deal,” confirmed the Lisburn man.
“The board and the chairman weighed it up and we respected Michael and his agent’s wishes on it. As we outlined last night when we were completing it, we’ll be renegotiating with our best players as soon as the league starts and if people get off to flying starts then we’ll be offering our best players contracts pretty soon.
“As you know, it’s about making sure players are happy in a challenging environment. Filippo and I know the kind of environment we want the players to return to and it has to be challenging because, as I said in the press conference before Christmas, Shamrock Rovers have laid down the gauntlet. They were so consistent last year in their levels of performance and we have to rise to that – not only us but all the sides in the League of Ireland.
“We want to make it as competitive as we possibly can, hence the reason why we’ve spent such a lot of time trying to recruit players.
“We’re better off having him next year than not and after that it will be up to Michael but everybody has come back in this surreal world that we’re now living in. Michael wants to play at the highest level. He has ambitions to play for the Republic of Ireland so if he wants to play at that level then he knows his performances have to be at the highest level every week or Stephen Kenny will either not look at him or not select him.
“The bonus is that Stephen has looked at players in the League of Ireland because he has vast experience in it and if he thinks they’re good enough he is going to throw them in,” said Magilton.
Michael Duffy has admitted that the shine would have been taken off Dundalk’s league title success if Vinny Perth’s side had missed out on a place in the FAI Cup final on Sunday.
The 25-year-old winger capped a superb week for him personally when he popped up with an 89th minute winner against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds on Sunday to book his side a date in a fifth consecutive final against Shamrock Rovers at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday November 3rd.
That strike followed on from his screamer against Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park six days earlier which pretty much wrapped up the Premier Division for his side.
While Dundalk already have two trophies in the bag having also won the EA Sports Cup a few weeks back, Duffy admitted it would have taken the shine off those successes had they not given themselves a chance of clinching the treble next month.
“It definitely would have,” he told The Argus afterwards.
“We’d probably have been disappointed for the next four weeks and we would have felt like we hadn’t won anything. That’s a bit mad to say when we’ve done a double already but you want to be in the Aviva at the end of the year.
“It’s something to look forward to and now we’ve set it up for an unbelievable day to look forward to.”
Duffy has been there and done it before having lost the 2017 final when his penalty was saved by Mark McNulty before playing a key role as Dundalk completed a league and Cup double last season.
He admitted that this year would be extra special, however, as his new born son Noah – born in July as Dundalk were winning a shoot-out away to Riga – would be attending his first game.
“It’ll be his first game so hopefully he brings me a bit of luck.
“It’s brilliant for the fans and everyone’s family because it’s an unbelievable day out. I can imagine that it’s going to be a lot bigger this year with the whole hype of Rovers being there having not been there in a while. They’ve a big fanbase so I’d say it will be a lot bigger than the last few years,” he said.
Having scored against Rovers earlier this week, Duffy admitted it had been a “brilliant week” for him and his team-mates and he said he feels he feels he is only getting better at the business end of the season having been troubled with a groin issue for much of the year.
“It has been a brilliant week. I don’t even know how to describe it, it’s just unbelievable really.
“The main thing was to get to the final. I didn’t care who scored or what way we got there but once we got through was all that mattered.
“I’ve had a few problems this season but I feel a lot better now. Definitely in the past two months, it’s probably the best I’ve felt all year. My performances have got a bit better too because I did have a dip in the middle of the season. There were big games in the middle of the season too so that wasn’t good but hopefully now I can finish the season well.”
Duffy admitted he took a gamble by opting to drift into the box in the build-up to his goal rather than standing over the free kick which Georgie Kelly would knock down to him to score.
“Usually I stand beside Sean Murray but I sort of just creeped into the box and gambled because it was the last minute.
“Georgie has done brilliantly to head it back to me and it has just fell to me perfectly. I haven’t caught it very clean but it’s gone into the bottom corner.”
After a week which saw him score in a league title decider and an FAI Cup semi-final there is much for Duffy to celebrate but he insisted that the champagne will remain on ice for another few weeks with the dream of a treble in sight.
“We just need to dig in now. There’s a month left and we can make history here and then we can go celebrate together if we do that.
“I’d say no one in Derry, as much as they support me, will want me to do it,” he laughed.
“That’s the way it is but it’s set up for an unbelievable end to the season.
“Rovers will be fired up for it. They’ve been tough every time we’ve played them. We both have a month now to prepare for it so it’s going to be a massive day,” said Duffy
It was a good weekend for headers from men called Duffy from Derry.
On Friday Shane Duffy got up to send a trademark header past Kasper Schmeichel to earn the Republic of Ireland a precious Euro 2020 qualifying point away to Denmark in Copenhagen.
Just 24 hours later in Ballybofey, his namesake Michael showed he is becoming just as good in the air with a bullet-like finish from John Mountney’s cross to break the deadlock for Dundalk in their match against Finn Harps.
Vinny Perth’s side would go on to win 3-0 to move five points clear at the top of the table and Duffy said that’s a scenario he would have taken heading to Donegal.
“Definitely,” he said when it was put to him.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game up here because it’s always a hard place to come but we got the three points and that’s the main thing. A 3-0 win is always good so we’re happy.”
While the winger’s header was just the third of his career, he insists they are something he has been working on having already scored a decisive header in the 1-0 win at home to Cork City back in March.
“We’ve been practicing them all week, doing a lot of crossing and heading and my heading was actually good in training,” he grinned.
“Mounts put it right on a plate for me so I couldn’t really miss it but I’m buzzing with it. He went on to get one himself and then Brian got a third so it’s good the practice paid off. We could have had a couple more with myself and Georgie then at the end.”
The latest win has helped Dundalk move five points clear at the top of the table after a stunning run of form which has seen them win 11 of their last 12 league games since losing away to Sligo Rovers on April 12th.
Worryingly for the rest of the league, he feels there is even more to come from both him and his team-mates.
“We’re in a good place,” he said.
“When we were 13 points behind there was a big fuss but we’ve only dropped two points since then. We’re on a brilliant run so we can go and enjoy the break now. We’ll be working hard as well and just preparing for the Rovers game.
“There’s definitely more to come from us and by the time we play again I think we’ll have a few players back as well but we’re in a good place,” he said.