Ten of the best: Mark Duffy - Sheffield United hero, 'bounce-killer' and comeback kid

It will soon be five years since Chris Wilder took charge of Sheffield United before presiding over a remarkable rise up the divisions to the Premier League.

Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 1:42 pm

Over the course of that half a decade many players failed to make a mark with the Blades but there are others who wrote themselves into Bramall Lane folklore.

As part of a special series from The Star, we take a look at 10 of them - starting with Danny Hall on the 'bounce-killer' himself, Mark Duffy.

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Mark Duffy was Chris Wilder's first signing as Sheffield United manager and even now, almost five years later, still ranks up there with the very best.

The only mystery to me, and to the Blades fans who watched Duffy terrorise defenders after being given the freedom of Bramall Lane to roam and get on the ball, is how United picked him up on a free transfer in the first place, after Birmingham City allowed his contract to expire.

Duffy had given Blades fans a taste of what they were getting the season before, when he was outstanding in Burton Albion's win at Bramall Lane on their way to promotion.

A winger earlier in his career, Duffy a revelation when played in the No.10 role after Wilder switched to a 3-5-2 formation and United won the league with 100 points in his first season at Bramall Lane.

Duffy was born in Huyton in Liverpool, the area where the likes of Steven Gerrard, Joey Barton and Lee Trundle grew up, and played for his boyhood club Liverpool until he was released at 16.

By his own admission, that broke his heart and he didn't kick a ball for another 18 months, falling out of love with football completely.

Instead, he had ambitions of becoming a sports coach with Liverpool council and was only tempted back into football when his mates asked him, telling him he'd earn £40 a game on top of the Education Maintenance Allowance he received from college at the time.

Ten of the best: Mark Duffy. Pic: Sportimage

Duffy moved back up through the levels, working with United's No.2 Alan Knill at Scunthorpe, and impressed for United in the Championship, too. He scored a goal against his former club Birmingham towards the end of United's first season back in the Championship and was booked for his celebration, after showing in no uncertain terms how delighted he was after how he felt the Blues treated him.

The following campaign was even better, for both Duffy and United. He was again a key player as the Blades sealed a second promotion in as many years, but his dream of playing in the Premier League was dashed when a contract dispute saw him bombed out just as United were preparing for the top-flight.

The timing and manner of his departure did not dampen his status as a modern-day Blades legend, though. A tattoo on Duffy's arm reads 'One of the greatest pleasures in life is doing what people say you cannot do' - and he made a career out of proving people wrong.

Mark Duffy will always have a special place in the hearts of United supporters for THAT goal which silenced Wednesday fans during his side's 4-2 win at Hillsborough in September 2017 - Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The Highlight

"Ooh, and Duffy has got there for Sheffield United ... inside and outside he goes ... THAT'S A STUNNING GOAL! How on earth did he manage that? Extraordinary stuff! Well, that's how to answer back, and then some."

Daniel Mann's commentary, of one of the most extraordinary moments in United's recent commentary, still sends shivers down the spine.

It was September 24, 2017, and United were reeling. They had been in total command of the first Sheffield derby in five years, going 2-0 up at Hillsborough inside 15 minutes, but goals from Gary Hooper and Lucas Joao had dragged Wednesday back on level terms.

Wednesday fans, facing a humiliating defeat after taunting their neighbours incessantly during their spell in the 'Pub League' below, had suddenly found their voice and Hillsborough was moving as thousands of them bounced up and down in joy, elation, relief.

Then Duffy pounced.

Duffy helped United win two promotions in three seasons: James Wilson/Sportimage

He'd only been on the pitch a few minutes when Wednesday scored, and played a one-two with Leon Clarke. Still, Hillsborough bounced. He turned Joost van Aken inside and then out, and the bouncing slowed a little. Then he smashed a shot past Keiren Westwood, and the bouncing stopped. The Blades fans in the upper tier behind that goal went absolutely mental. Wednesday had been level for 38 seconds of play.

The Blades went on to win the game 4-2, former Wednesday striker Clarke adding his second of the game, and the game has gone down in United folklore.

Duffy was affectionately christened 'the Bounce Killer' and even now is frequently sent videos of his goal.

"After the game, I reckon I had 10,000 messages, tweets, emails ... my phone went into absolute overdrive," he told The Star. "People have made all sorts of that moment, pictures and mugs and steel plaques and badges.

"I've got all sorts of stuff. But I never tire of seeing the goal. Some players go a whole career without something so special happening.

"There's a great video of the Wednesday fans bouncing and then the camera pans to the top of the away end just after the goal. I don't know why they uploaded them all, to be honest!

"You'd think they'd have deleted them. But I'm glad they didn't. My dad has them all on his iPad and watches them when he's had a drink! He runs through it with me and asks what I'm thinking when I get the ball, but it's just instinct really.

"I just did what I did as a kid in Liverpool, when I was six or seven years old. It came from playing on the streets as a kid and it could have been anyone in goal or in the opposition. I'd have scored many goals like that in the youth clubs growing up, actually.

"Just not in front of 32,000 fans in a local derby!"

He had previously caught the eye playing against United for Burton Albion - Simon Bellis/Sportimage