When the Republic of Ireland take on Italy on Monday in their final game at UEFA EURO 2012, Damien Duff will win his 100th cap and become only the fifth player to do so in the Football Association of Ireland's (FAI) history. At 33, and 14 years on from his debut, his arrival at this juncture is a tribute not only to his quality, but also his desire.
"He has a humility about him which all of our top sports stars have," said Eamon Dunphy, Ireland's most famous pundit. "DJ Carey, Tony McCoy, Brian O'Driscoll."
Duff is keeping good company with those names – a hurler, a jockey and a rugby player. Then again, the Fulham FC winger has done so throughout his career. The winner of two Premier League titles and as many League Cups, his consistent standards reflect the fact that he has appeared in the English top flight for all bar one of his seasons as a professional.
"That comes down to his intelligence as much as his ability," says Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland coach. "He makes smart decisions. He's a big player for us, someone I have tremendous pride in."
Duff's pride in playing for his country is greater still. "When I was Irish manager, results – good or bad – just seemed to matter to him so much," said Brian Kerr, who managed Duff and Ireland between 2003 and 2005. "He'd get down when we lost. It hurt him."
No doubt the last week will have hurt too. While Group C opponents Croatia and Spain have been an undiluted joy in the way they have gone about their business, these Irish players are proud men. Losing will have darkened their mood.
And for Duff, speaking before the tournament began, the landmark of achieving 100 caps paled next to the importance of producing performances and results against Europe's best. "It's about the team, not about me," he said.
"That's Damien summed up," added defender Sean St Ledger. "He's humble. Brilliant and humble, a great bloke." And a great player.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.