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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Mark McCadden

Shelbourne heading in right direction under Damien Duff, says departing star

Stephan Negru reckons Shelbourne are on the right track under former Ireland internationals Damien Duff and Joey O’Brien - and he admits it’s tough to leave them just four months after his first-team debut.

However, the 20-year-old - who yesterday signed for Oxford United - felt he had to get out of his comfort zone to progress as a player.

Negru (20) signed a two-and-a-half year deal yesterday, with the option of another year, and he admitted it was tough to leave the FAI Cup finalists.

“I was settling in really well with the players and staff, it felt like a second home, to be honest,” he told the Irish Daily Star.

“But I think the next step for me is to test myself again and see where it brings me. As sad as it is to leave, I do think it’s the right decision.

“I’ll miss my family, the players… it’s tough to pick one thing. I’ve been in Ireland my whole life and I’ve been at Shels for six years. It feels like my home club here.

“So it is tough to leave the players and staff, and also my family here.

“It is obviously a comfortable environment, but you need to get out of your comfort zone to see how it goes in the future.”

It’s been a whirlwind year for Negru, who progressed through Shels’ underage ranks.

After making his first-team bow in the FAI Cup against Bonagee United in August, he scored on his Premier Division debut away to Finn Harps.

He featured in the starting-11 in last month’s FAI Cup final defeat to Derry City.

Along the way, he has worked with some top coaches, including former Ireland underage international and League of Ireland star Gavin Peers.

“Gavin has helped me massively. He has won everything with Sligo Rovers and he played underage for Ireland. He was great,” said Negru.

“I’m close with Gavin. I talk to him throughout the week. He’d really help me.

“After games he’d tell me what I need to improve on position-wise, even decision making, all these little aspects to your game.

“Every little helps. I think it has boosted my game massively.

“And then obviously Damien Duff and Joey O’Brien with the first-team. I can’t complain!

“Joey has got plenty of experience. I’ve learned loads over the last few years.

“This was my first step into men’s football and he showed me it’s all about defending, you’re a defender first.

“The intensity, the quality he asks for, you can just see it’s of the highest level.

“He’s great too on things like position and decision-making. I am eager to learn and improve, especially from players who have been there and done that.”

As for Duff, he added: “I am a Chelsea fan myself, so it was a bit surreal having him as my manager.

“But once you get to know him that goes to the background and you just focus. He has helped me massively too.

“The training under him has been of the highest intensity. The standards he asks for are so high. That’s the only way you can improve.

“I love the honesty from him. Sometimes it’s harsh, but it’s good. It really does help.

“He’s not afraid to say what needs to be said, but that’s good. Some things need to be said. It’s good to take it on the chin and move on.

“You can obviously tell he has been through some of the best coaches and that reflects on his coaching style.”

Negru watched the evolution of Shelbourne under Duff - first from the Tolka Park stands and then close up in the Chelsea and Ireland legend’s dressing room.

“The comparison from where we began to where we finished with the FAI Cup final, it was a massive improvement,” he said.

“You could see the intensity of training, the togetherness and even the game-plan, the philosophy he instilled, his style of play; he expects no less than the best.

“Obviously they are hoping to achieve big things next year and they deserve it.”

Reflecting on his brief time in Duff’s team, he said: “The last few months were so quick for me. Breaking into the team, starting and scoring on my debut, it’s been unbelievable.

“Then to be told I’d be playing in the Aviva Stadium and to do it in front of 34,000 fans was unbelievable.

“It was nerve-racking at the start and the result didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but it was an unforgettable experience. No doubt we’ll all learn from it.

“I never experienced anything like it before. The biggest crowd I’d played in front of before that was a few weeks earlier in the semi-final in Waterford, 5,000, and before that a couple of hundred.

“It was a massive jump. Just to see the fans, the passion and desire from everyone, was great.”


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