Dylan Duffy: What Next For City’s Exciting Young Winger?

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Dylan Duffy has been with the club for a little over 13 months now. He arrived as a prospect from UCD and perhaps got exposed to first-team football a little earlier than we’d expected.

Unlike Zak Bradshaw, who arrived billed as a ‘project player,’ Duffy came in with a rather ambiguous role. Was he going to be a major player? Was he one for the future? Ultimately, he’s slotted into the middle ground, a squad player who hasn’t fully broken the first team yet but feels too integral to the squad to be farmed out on loan.

This week on the award-winning Stacey West podcast* we were asked whether a loan move would be the best thing for Dylan next season. My reply (as it was quickfire, Chris didn’t respond but nodded enthusiastically throughout) was this:

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“I think he could benefit from one, but I don’t think he’ll get one because I think he’s part of the first-team squad, and he is getting relatively regular minutes.

“In the early part of a season, there are more opportunities for minutes than there are at the last stage of the season. So we keep him around (next season) because he plays three EFL trophy games; he starts those. He starts a game in the League Cup. He probably starts in the FA Cup. He might force his way to start three or four league games, depending on the situation at left wing-back.

“So I think he’s been fast-tracked through the loan spell. I don’t think that he’s somebody that’s likely to go out on loan.”

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One phrase there got me thinking – ‘relatively regular minutes.’ We see Duffy plenty in a Lincoln shirt – he’s appeared 34 times this season, 27 times in the league. He has more league appearances than Alex Mitchell, Jovon Makama, and Danny Mandroiu. He’s only three league appearances away from matching Liam Bridcutt’s league appearances across a two-season spell. However, there is a caveat – his average minutes per game this campaign is just 36, down from 46 in his seven outings last season. While the number of times we’ve seen him is up, he has only gone the distance twice in the league this season – at home to Port Vale and away at Blackpool.

That drops him into a grey area. There’s no doubting the talent Duffy has – over the last calendar year, only Reeco Hackett has more dribbles per 90 than Dylan, he’s top for crosses per 90 minutes, and his accuracy (for those players who play more than one per game) is second only to Ted Bishop. I may be wrong here, but I also recall him winning us at least two penalties (Cambridge and Port Vale) with his pace and direct running. He’s definitely a player who wants to get on the ball and make things happen, and for me, that means a loan move looks highly unlikely.

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The big conundrum is how we get the best out of him. If Michael Skubala does want to go to a four at the back, which is likely, then there’s a chance we’ll play with two wide midfielders, almost traditional wingers, in a 4-4-2 formation. If we do that, then almost certainly, Reeco fills in on the left, and that’s where Dylan’s issue is. In most teams, a gifted left-footed winger would be a shoo-in. 1990’s England would have done anything for a left-footed winger. Lincoln City have two, and one of them, Reeco Hackett, is arguably one of our best players, winning Goal of the Month earlier in the season and being nominated for Player of the Month for February.

Where does that leave the 21-year-old? Well, it could feel a bit like the answer to that is ‘out in the cold,’ but I think the opposite is true. Having Reeco ahead of him at the moment is partly a blessing because it allows him regular minutes without the pressure of having to produce. By that, I don’t mean he can coast through, obviously, but it means we’re in a position where he can come on and express himself without the moans and groans if he puts a foot wrong. Now we’re effectively safe and probably not going up either, there’s a great chance for Dylan to see those average minutes perhaps increase a little to gain more experience.

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What of next season? I think there’s every chance Dylan remains a key part of the squad next season. The thing with young players is they don’t all need to burst onto the scene; they can be slower burners and develop in the right way. I think that’s Dylan to a tee – when we kick off next season, you’d imagine there will be three, maybe four or five EFL Trophy matches for him to start. The League Cup is usually good for some minutes, as I’ve said, and if we’re going Saturday/Tuesday for weeks on end, as we seem to, his pace, energy, and flexibility on the left will be a big thing for us.

In my opinion, the key to whether a player should head out on loan is revealed at 2 pm. When you look at team as it drops and survey the bench, you think one of two things. It’s either ‘that’s a strong bench’ or ‘there’s not much on the bench.’ What defines that choice? The players, obviously. But your reaction is a natural indicator of how you view a player.

Let me explain. I’m sure Gbolahan Okewoye and Zane Okoro are exciting young players with a future in the game, but when you see their names on the bench right now, it feels like a depleted offering. When you see Dylan Duffy’s name, it’s one that makes you think we have options. That’s almost instinctive. A bench containing Duffy feels naturally stronger than one containing Okoro, Okewoye, maybe even Makama and Smith.

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I think that answers the question of where next for Dylan Duffy. Whilst his input hasn’t be extensive this season in terms of minutes, the regularity with which he appears is really an indication of where he is in the pecking order. He feels a little bit like Elliot Whitehouse did for a while – a go-to sub when you need to change personnel, but not shape, and an option when you need to shift the formation around as well. He offers options from the bench that directly benefit our approach, and he’s a talented boy to boot.

I’m excited to see what the future holds for Dylan Duffy.

* Awarded Best Podcast Recorded by a Ginger Guy Called Gary two years in a row by the ‘Ginger Guy Called Gary’ awards.