So, Shane Duffy has left Celtic after the best part of a season.

Costing the thick end of £3m, all in, Duffy seemed, at surface level, like a decent signing. In terms of “Celtic man credentials”, well… he was the Ireland captain. Add to that his history in the Premier League, having worked with top players at Everton and Brighton, it seemed like a decent deal.

After Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien established a solid defensive partnership, there were still frailties in Celtic’s defence. We were particularly vulnerable from counter-attacks, as matches against Cluj and Copenhagen demonstrated. From corners and free kicks, there was always a sense of dread in the stands (how little changes).

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Neil Lennon wanted to play a back three, with Ajer and Jullien on either side of a tall, dominant centre-half with ability in the air. One with international and Premier League pedigree seemed a remote possibility. So when Duffy became available, it didn’t need much convincing for either party to suggest this was a good idea.

According to the Herald, upon Duffy’s arrival [Herald]:

“The defender finished the campaign as one of England’s most effective tacklers, winning his defensive duels 69.9% of the time, leaving Duffy as the 22nd best performing player in this regard, marginally ahead of Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk (68.8%).”

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And when he arrived, he immediately made a mark. Scoring alongside Albian Ajeti (remember him?), Duffy was huge at either side of the pitch in a 5-0 rout of Ross County [Herald]. His next few games were equally good; another goal in a win over St Mirren, two consecutive clean sheets against Hibs and St. Johnstone then… that Glasgow Derby.

Shane Duffy

Shane Duffy against Sparta Prague / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Wheels came off quickly for Shane Duffy after Glasgow Derby

Arguably the first “real test” for Duffy, it was a back three of the Irishman, Ajer and Stephen Welsh who faced Gerrard’s side at Celtic Park.

It didn’t go well, and you could tell from Duffy’s body language that it wasn’t good enough. He looked absolutely distraught, as Celtic were caught out from very simple set pieces, leaving Vasilis Barkas completely exposed. You can tell what it would’ve meant to Duffy to have been able to win that match. Sadly, it was the first grim warning for what was to come.

We didn’t keep a clean sheet for four consecutive league games, while the defending in the Europa League was beyond comical. The notions about Duffy being an “answer” for Celtic were emphatically dismissed, with his wayward passing halting the Bhoys’ momentum in possession. The jersey seemed to weigh heavy on the Irish centre-back, and he never really recovered.

 

Foremost amongst his problems was an ever-shifting Celtic side. Due to a combination of indecision, injuries and Covid-19, Lennon had to constantly change his back-line. The goalkeepers behind Duffy were inconsistent, too, with Barkas being the first big sacrifice of 20-21.

To his left, more uncertainty, with Laxalt or Taylor. To his right, Frimpong endured some torrid matches, especially in Europe. So he wasn’t the only piece that wasn’t fitting, but perhaps the most high-profile.

Neil Lennon congratulates Shane Duffy after his Celtic debut

Neil Lennon congratulates Shane Duffy after his Celtic debut / (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

No chance after Neil Lennon’s exit

Shane Duffy hasn’t played for Celtic since just before Neil Lennon’s exit. Nobody is entirely sure who was dictating transfer policy. Nick Hammond was guiding, rather than making final calls, as we understand it. Given Duffy’s disappearance from the first-team picture under John Kennedy, you’d have to assume that Duffy was a Lenny signing.

If that’s the case, then it’s easy to go tonto decrying the madness of that decision. As we’ve said, though, Duffy’s exact attributes were things the Celtic side was missing, to a degree. It made sense to have a big, traditional centre-back. One who could making winning headers and bring experience to a youthful side.

Under John Kennedy, Stephen Welsh has been preferred. He was on loan at Morton last season and, in patches, has been genuinely impressive in a Celtic shirt. But if anyone at the club insisted that the plan was to play Welsh as often as we have, they’d surely be lying.

Neil Lennon and Shane Duffy seemed to enjoy a cordial relationship, albeit under difficult circumstances. When both men were being criticised for their respective performances, Lennon was public about heart-to-heart meetings. Whether disclosing that was a help or hinderance is unclear, but it showed that our former manager clearly believed in the Ireland captain.

In a way, their stories mirror each other. If Christopher Jullien is emblematic of a successful 19-20, Duffy is 20-21. An arrival that offered much hope and promise, everything seemed on course. As we know now, the campaign veered wildly off-course, and now both of the main protagonists have left the club.

It’s a real shame that this didn’t work out. But perhaps it’s a warning story, a signing of sentiment and reputation over potential and suitability.

READ MORE: A former Celtic man is thriving after a difficult 20-21

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