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Defender excited at prospect of Everton return

Shane Duffy grateful to the Toffees as he prepares to step out at Goodison Park with Brighton

Austria Wien v FC Everton - Preseason Friendly Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images

I’m sure the irony won’t be lost on Evertonians that, with their own defence floundering, an academy graduate could be about to give them a timely reminder of what they are missing.

I think it’s fair to say that if Shane Duffy was still in the Everton squad he would almost certainly be in the starting line-up on Saturday.

Instead, the Republic of Ireland international will lining up in a Brighton shirt arguably in the form of his career.

Duffy has been a rock at the heart of the Seagulls’ defence this season alongside regular partner Lewis Dunk.

The 26-year-old has made more clearances than any other player in the Premier League this season and the second most blocks. Meanwhile only Peter Crouch and Christian Benteke have won more aerial battles than the Derry-born defender.

Brighton and Hove Albion v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Compare that to the rabble currently masquerading as defenders at Goodison Park and you can understand why supporters are questioning the decision to sell Duffy to Blackburn in the summer 2014.

However, it is very easy to criticise in hindsight as predicting which young players will fulfil their potential is not an exact science.

Rewind back to the summer of 2014 and you could understand why Roberto Martinez chose to let Duffy leave, with Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and John Stones in front of him.

It may well be that Duffy’s career would have stalled had he not sought out regular first-team football at Ewood Park.

After loan spells and Burnley, Scunthorpe and Yeovil, Duffy finally settled at Blackburn, where his impressive performances earned him a move to Brighton - then of the Championship - in the summer of 2016.

In an interview with the Argus, Duffy concedes he questioned whether he would ever play in the top flight again when he left Merseyside four years ago.

“Of course, yes you think that. But I always knew Everton was a top club in the Premier League. You have to be really good to break through there.

”If you look at my career, I went to Yeovil and Scunthorpe and Blackburn. So you are thinking it’s probably never going to come.

”But you just keep working hard and if you get a platform to do it, like at this club (Albion), it’s special for me and I am grateful to them.”

As he prepares to return to Goodison Park for the first time, Duffy insists he only has good things to say about his time at the club.

He may only have made four senior starts, but Duffy feels his early education at Finch Farm has helped make him the player he is today.

“I owe the club a lot. They gave me a pathway. It taught me to be a man and a footballer from 15.

”So many of the backroom staff and on the academy side taught me how to play football in a man’s game.

”It was great. They gave me a platform to go out and perform. Luckily enough I played a few times for the first team.

”It’s a great club and I’m looking forward to going back there. Obviously hopefully for a win.”