ALBION defender Shane Duffy reported for Republic of Ireland duty with a smile on his face after putting a difficult spell behind him.

The 30-year-old Brighton defender is back in favour at his club having emerged from ankle surgery and a bout of Covid-19, and met up with his international team-mates happy to be back playing and regaining the form which has made him a stalwart for his country in recent years.

Duffy has endured tough times in his career – he almost died after suffering a ruptured artery in a freak training ground accident as an 18-year-old and endured a difficult loan spell at Celtic last season, and he also lost his father Brian in May 2020 – but is now back in business.

The Argus: Shane DuffyShane Duffy

Asked how he had dealt with those testing times and in particular his spell in Scotland, he said: “Good family, good friends, good people around you who pick you up when you’re down.

“I think if you speak to the majority of footballers, there are low points in your career, and that was mine. You’ve just got to have the mental strength to come out of it and bounce back and believe in your ability, and that’s what I’ve done.

“I’ve knuckled down and I’ve got a smile back on my face, I’m enjoying it again, so that’s it. There’s no secret there, I’m just back being happy.”

Duffy is one of the senior members of a new-look Ireland team which is gradually starting to take shape under manager Stephen Kenny, a development which will be put to the test by world number one side Belgium on Saturday evening.

He said: “The squad the manager has built over the last year, anyone can come in and produce and play – that’s the trust we have among the group.

“In the last few games, we’ve had a bit of continuity in the team and it’s worked. The trust is there – we had a camp last summer in Spain and from that moment on, it’s been similar squads and the same players.

“When you play together for longer, it gets better and that’s how it’s been over the year. Every time I come in, it’s the same faces and it’s exciting every time you come in.”