DAMIEN DUFF has admitted he is “gutted” and “devastated” to be leaving his coaching role at Celtic.
The 41-year-old former Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle and Fulham winger has quit the champions to take over as assistant alongside manager Stephen Kenny in the recently-revamped Republic of Ireland international set-up.
Duff has been working alongside Neil Lennon and John Kennedy and he considers the last 18 months to be the best of his sporting life.
The 100 times-capped Irish icon, speaking to the club website, admitted: “The role I had at Celtic was my dream job. I’m absolutely gutted, devastated to be leaving, especially at this time, when we’re going for 10.
“It was absolutely a family decision. There is no job in the world that would have taken me away from the role I was in. I’d love to be a brilliant coach one day, but I think it’s more important at the minute that I’m just a brilliant dad, I guess.
“For the first while I was away, my kids were like: ‘Daddy, Daddy, stay for nine and 10’. But as time went by, it was more: ‘Daddy, Daddy, when are you coming home?’ Celtic is one big family, but my family is here, as well.
“It was the best year-and-a-half of my sporting life and I include my football career in that. It was an absolute dream with amazing people. I’m gutted, but my kids need me, which is always the most important thing to any dad.”
Duff joined as assistant boss of the reserves side in January last year, but was swiftly promoted to first-team duties following the sudden departure of Brendan Rodgers and his backroom staff to Leicester City a month later.
DUG-OUT DREAM TEAM…Damien Duff with John Kennedy and Neil Lennon.
He played his role in helping the club to an unprecedented treble treble last year and also the ninth successive title and the League Cup in the most recent campaign.
The Dubliner added: “I’d never really planned out a coaching career. When you retire it can be quite a scary time, so I thought I’d try my hand at my coaching badges and from there everything happened a lot quicker than I would have thought. In the space of three to four months, I went from coaching 15-year-olds at Shamrock Rovers to being on the sidelines at Tynecastle.
“Like anything in life, I guess I got there because of hard work, 24/7, I was the same as a player. It was amazing, and listen, I’ll be watching every game here from home. Like most Irish people, I was always a Celtic fan before all of this and now having been in there, loving the guys so much, I’ll be keeping tabs from afar every game on the TV.
“It was great to get a few trophies along the way, in such a short time, and it was an absolute rollercoaster. Working with top people, it was great and amazing learning experience.
“Like I said when I came in, the only club that would have taken me away from home was Celtic, but then with my family based in Ireland, the only thing that would have taken me away from Celtic was my family.
“Leaving, for me, was one big Catch 22 situation, but it was an amazing 18 months working with great staff. The gaffer is the best in Scotland. John Kennedy is the best assistant manager around – I’ve worked with many coaches in my life, but John is one of the best coaches in the world, without a doubt.
“It’s been amazing learning from him. And Stevie Woods, as well, he’s well-respected all around the world and is a world-class coach.
“The players are the best group in the country, amazing characters, amazing talent. The likes of Brown, McGregor, working with them day-in, day-out, that was a dream.
“It’s all in a good place and I’ll definitely be back as a fan, hopefully to celebrate, at the end of this season if not before.”
Boss Lennon has stated he will replace Duff, but will not be rushed into a hasty decision. Ex-players Stephen McManus and Darren O’Dea have already been linked with the vacancy.