Belfast Telegraph

Veteran Kenny Shiels is all fired up for new season with Derry City

By Stuart McKinley

Kenny Shiels has always had a passion for football. He might be just a couple of months short of his 60th birthday, but that passion is still burning as brightly as it's ever done.

The fire inside the former Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers and Coleraine manager has been reignited by a new challenge.

After a spell away from the cut and thrust of management following his departure from Kilmarnock in June 2013 - and a spell in Thailand last year ending after only a few months - Shiels and wife Gwen decided to return to their native Maghera and he is back where he belongs - in the dugout.

It's more than three months now since he was appointed as manager of Derry City and waiting patiently to get his teeth into the job Shiels is now ready to get going as they open the League of Ireland season with an eagerly anticipated derby battle against newly promoted Finn Harps tonight.

"It's been a long pre-season. We've been doing double sessions and, at times, treble sessions so a lot of work has gone in and there have been a lot of hours spent on the training ground," said Shiels.

"All that is done now. We have been moving in the right direction and the players are ready to go.

"For me it's good to be involved again at a professional club where everything is done right and great to be working with footballers again."

Expectation comes with the territory at Brandywell. The fact that the club's last league title win was almost 20 years ago remains a sore point with the fans.

Cup success has brought some cheer, but even though there are bigger budgets in Cork, Dundalk and at the Dublin clubs - Bohemians, St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers - and a battle to avoid relegation last season the Candystripes' supporters still have a strong desire to see their team compete at the upper end of the table.

Rather than fear the challenge, Shiels is embracing it as he feels exactly the same way as those on the terraces.

"I want to do well; I am still very ambitious," said Shiels.

"I want to take the club to a new level and although that is a big ask I believe the club has the wherewithal to achieve success.

"It's a demanding job, the fans have a level of expectation based on what the club has achieved in the past and I am not afraid of that.

"There is, however, a recognition that the club is going through a transitional period and we are trying to develop the young players from the city to make them the future of the club.

"We don't have any targets for the season. The squad is new to me and we're still putting things in place.

"We've had four or five practice games which have gone well and the intensity has been good.

"I want to get a few weeks of a bedding in period to see where we are before I start to think what is achievable this season, but we will be striving to do our best."

A crowd of around 5,000-6,000 is expected to pack Finn Park tonight, with many making the 30-mile journey from the Maiden City in anticipation of collecting the first three points of the season.

"There is a good buzz around the city. The game is a sell-out and we'll be taking 1,000 with us," said Shiels.

"It's an exciting period before the first game. Everyone wants to get a look at the new players and to see us start well and that's what we'll be trying to do."

As well as securing goalscorer Rory Patterson's (left) return to the club after a year in Australia, Shiels has gone international in bringing Danish defender Niclas Vemmelund and Spanish midfidler Cristian Delgado to the club.

Scottish pair Jordan Allan and Harry Monaghan have also come across the Irish Sea, while Gareth McGlynn is back too, after a spell down under.

"Rory is a proven goalscorer and we are hoping that's what we get from him," said Shiels.

"He did go to FC United of Manchester, but that was because the manager is a personal friend and I think he wanted to do him a favour, but he always wanted to come home and hopefully he can meet the expectations we have of him."

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