LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

In this era of mercenary millionaire footballers, Republic of Ireland legend Damien Duff has declared that ‘every penny’ he earns from his 18-month contract with Shamrock Rovers will go towards children’s charities. Peter Doyle reports.

This Saturday, Shamrock Rovers host Ireland’s oldest club, Bohemians, celebrating their 125th birthday this weekend. The rivalry between Ireland’s most successful side, Rovers, and its oldest, the Bohs, is arguably just as fierce as any other derby across Europe.

Damien Duff’s wages from this match and others over the next 18 months – an estimated €150,000 – is being divided equally between Heart Children Ireland and Dublin’s Temple Street hospital.

Duff’s reasons for his remarkable act of generosity are simple: his son Woody, now four, was born with a life-threatening heart condition that required surgery when he was six months old.

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When the former Chelsea, Newcastle United and Fulham star announced plans to end his glittering playing career in the League of Ireland, he was roundly applauded for his patriotism.

With 100 Republic of Ireland caps and two Premier League medals for Chelsea under José Mourinho behind him, the 36 year old could have been forgiven for seeking a final pay-day in more lucrative surroundings after leaving Australian side Melbourne City.

But the player who has earned a reported £14 million from the game was intent on returning to his native Ireland so he could repay a debt of gratitude to the medical professionals who helped save his young son’s life.

Speaking about his Rovers deal, Duff has said: ‘I don’t want a penny. I thought it would be something nice to do because I just want to play football. The only thing I’ve taken from Rovers is the loan of a car until I sort my situation out.’

‘Otherwise, every penny I get – bonuses, incentives, appearance money — is all going to those two charities.’

Although Duff signed for the Hoops in July, Rovers fans had to wait until the middle of August for his debut when he came on as an injury-time sub after watching his teammates take three points off second-placed Cork City.

The sight of the former Republic of Ireland winger in the green-and-white hoops helped generate a feel-good factor around Tallaght Stadium, with manager Pat Fenlon declaring that his side could still challenge for the title, which they haven’t won since 2011.

‘Anything is doable,’ Fenlon said after the 3-0 win.

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However, hopes of a late charge were soon dashed following a draw away at Sligo and Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat at the Oriel Park home of table-toppers Dundalk.

But with nine points separating Rovers in third and Bohs two places below, Dublin’s big two are now battling for bragging rights in the capital as the end of the Irish season approaches.

Dublin’s other top-tier side, St Patrick’s Athletic, are only a point behind the Tallaght side.

After the dust settles, Bohs will return to their northside home to prepare for their birthday bash the following day.

Exactly 125 years to the day after the club was founded, a challenge match between Bohemian Legends and FAI Masters has been arranged with all proceeds going to charity – a gesture that the new star of their fiercest rivals will, no doubt, applaud.

Shamrock Rovers-Bohemians, Tallaght Stadium, September 5, 3pm.