By Ryan Kelly
Ireland defender Shane Duffy believes that the criticism levelled at Giovanni Trapattoni's squad following their Euro 2012 disappointment is unjust.
The Everton centre-back admits that the Boys in Green performed beneath themselves but thinks the squad should not be written off completely, citing Netherlands' disastrous tournament in Poland and Ukraine as a similar situation.
"People shouldn't be criticising the team so much," he told Goal.com. "Look at the Netherlands; one of the best teams in the world and they also lost all their games.
"They played poorly, but that doesn't make them a poor team does it? The same applies to Ireland.
"We had a tough group at the end of the day. People said that Croatia were going to be easy, but the reality is that the eventual champions just about beat them.
"The team was out in Poland trying their best to do us proud but we have to be realistic and not go over the top by criticising the team so much."
Duffy missed out on a place in the European Championship squad, but was full of praise for the players who went to the tournament in his place. Despite Ireland being the first team to be eliminated Duffy maintains that Trapattoni is still in charge of a competitive team.
"We have a good team," he said. "You don't get to the European Championships if you're a bad team."
"I think we did really well to get to the tournament. Fair enough we went out at the group stage, but some of the criticism of the team was very harsh."
Duffy has earned several under-21 caps for Ireland and received a senior call up in February 2012 when Giovanni Trapattoni chose him as a replacement for the injured Richard Dunne for the game against Czech Republic. The Derry man believes that the U21 squad can emulate the Irish senior squad by qualifying for the Uefa Under-21 European Championships in 2013.
"We always have a chance if we keep our strongest team together and it's a talented squad," stated the centre-back. "It would be a great experience to qualify for the European Championships with the U21s. I'd love it."
Nevertheless, Duffy admitted that his own international ambitions will be tempered by how regularly he plays at club level. "At the minute I'm focused on making sure I'm playing regular club football and the U21 game against Turkey [in August]. Obviously I'd love to get a senior call up, but I have to earn it."
Duffy is hoping that he can continue his progress at Goodison Park this year after getting a taste of top-flight action last season. He made his senior Everton debut as a 17-year-old in a Europa League tie against AEK Athens but had to wait three years before he could make the breakthrough to the Premier League.
Following loan spells at Burnley and Scunthorpe United, Duffy made his Premier League debut for the Toffees last season when he came on for the injured Sylvain Distin against Tottenham Hotspur in a 2-0 defeat. He was subsequently handed his first ever Premier League start against Aston Villa three days later.
He went on to feature just five times for the Toffees' first team for the remainder of the season, but the 20-year old is keen to make his mark this coming season.
"Obviously my aims are to play regular football for the full season," he acknowledged. "And hopefully I can break into the first team of Everton. That's the main goal.
"But if I can't do that, I'll go on loan and see if I can do well at a Championship club and you never know what might happen then.
"Last season I really enjoyed my experience at Scunthorpe and felt I learned a lot from it. If I can get experience playing in the Championship that would be great, but I just want to be playing regularly."
With Irish clubs about to embark on their own European adventures, Duffy, a Derry City fan, says that it makes him 'proud' to see Irish teams do well.
"I hope the Irish teams can progress in Europe this season like Shamrock Rovers did last year. I'm proud of our country and it's always good to see Irish teams doing well. If we could get the finances to support the league it'd be great.
"Of course I'd like to see Derry do well too. It's been a tough season so far but Derry have some good players who could do really well in the next few years," he concluded.