Belfast Telegraph

Derry City raring to go again after rising from ashes

By Peter Hutcheon

It is little more than a year since the city of Derry faced up to the prospect, for the second time, of life without football.

Shenanigans in the boardroom threatened the continuing existence of the renowned Derry City name.

But if that case was slightly overstated by the League of Ireland who promptly found a place for them to compete in the first division last season, it is to the eternal credit of the football-mad city that far from withering and dying, the club found renewed streams of energy with which to bounce straight back.

Tonight the newly crowned First Division champions make their Premier Division return against Sligo Rovers at the Brandywell, eager to prove that last year's rise from the ashes was not just a flash in the pan.

It was the manner in which the new breed of locally based young players on whom manager Stephen Kenny was forced to rely last year came through which was the most impressive aspect of their march to the first division title.

The Dubliner, who is now Derry's longest-serving manager, could do nothing as the side which he had painstakingly built was ripped apart by market forces as Derry had no option at the time but to free every player from their contracts.

He was left with a handful of familiar names: Kevin Deery, Barry Molloy and Eddie McCallion from the side which he took on the 2006 Uefa Cup run. But last year he saw young players Patrick McEleney and James McClean come to the fore.

Since then familiar faces Ruaidhri Higgins and Gareth McGlynn have returned to the fold and the squad has also been strengthened by the signing of Libyan international striker Eamon Zayed.

“The response last year was terrific,” Kenny says.

“Everyone worked very hard behind the scenes and I felt the players produced some superb performances as a result.

“To have so many young players in the league for the first time and go on and win the title was a fantastic effort.”

Kenny is too long in the tooth to allow his young charges to get carried away with themselves.

“Our first two home matches are against the FAI Cup champions Sligo Rovers and the Premier Division champions Shamrock Rovers but we have to relish that sort of challenge,” he says.

“We have got to have the mentality that we can beat any other team in the league and not worry about who we are playing or what resources the other side has at their disposal.

“We will probably have one of the smallest team in the league, but we also have a high degree of skill and individual talent.”

Derry will also be operating with one of the smaller squads in the Premier Division — just 20 players — and skipper Deery is hoping to avoid the kind of injury-plagued run which limited him to just 16 appearances last year.

“I was delighted for the success of the team and I would like to think that I contributed to that, but is was disappointing to be out so much from a personal point of view,” he said.

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