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Derry City will not return to Northern Ireland football league

By Steven Beacom

Derry City vice-chairman Sean Barrett has declared that the Candystripes are happy in the League of Ireland and have no desire to return to Irish League football as the club approach and prepare to celebrate 30 years of playing in the Republic of Ireland.

Three decades ago, the Brandywell outfit applied to join the League of Ireland, beginning a journey in the 1985-86 season that has seen them enjoy title triumphs, cup successes and endure financial struggles.

Over the course of those 30 years, the subject of Derry coming back to the Irish League has often cropped up.

They withdrew from the Irish League in 1972 feeling as though they were being forced out after Irish League clubs voted against a proposal for Derry City to return to play home games at the Brandywell after security concerns the year before had led them to playing home matches in Coleraine.

From 1972 to 1985, Derry played junior football until a chance to compete once again in the senior ranks part of the League of Ireland.

They have remained there ever since, though in 2009 the FAI expelled the club for breaching regulations for holding secondary, unofficial contracts with players.

The club went into liquidation and effectively a new Derry City was formed, entering the First Division before securing promotion.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the Candystripes and their fans, who over the past 30 years have cheered terrace favourites Owen Da Gama and Alex Krstic and watched renowned local heroes such as Liam Coyle as well as English players like Dennis Tueart and Luther Blissett wear the red and white strip.

Legendary striker Coyle believes Derry should return to the Irish League, whose Managing Director Andrew Johnston has told the Belfast Telegraph such a scenario would be considered at an AGM if City chose to go down that route.

Derry vice-chairman Barrett insists, though, that the club remain content to stay in the League of Ireland for the foreseeable future. He adds there is a determination to continue an impressive recent trend which has seen numerous players transferred to cross channel sides.

"We are in the League of Ireland and that's where we want to stay. We are a professional club and are happy here and my own personal opinion is that I see no reason to change," said Barrett.

"Since coming to the League of Ireland we have had great success winning league titles, FAI Cups and other trophies and qualifying for Europe on numerous occasions, playing big sides like Benfica and Paris St Germain along the way.

"We have also been very successful in developing our local young talent and many of them have gone on to become full internationals.

"When you think of the players who have left the Brandywell to go and play full-time football in England and Scotland, our record is fantastic. No Irish League club could match it.

"We must have made £1.5m plus on boys like James McClean, Daniel Lafferty, Conor Salmon, Niall McGinn, Paddy McCourt, Mark McCrystal, David Forde, Stephen McLaughlin and most recently young Michael Duffy making big moves.

"That is great for the players and great for the club and it shows talented youngsters what is possible if they come and sign for Derry City.

"We are a community club and we want kids from the area to dream about what they can achieve by joining us, that they can get a great grounding with us and go and play at the highest level."

While Derry have big money coming in from transfers, there is also serious cash going out in terms of travel and accommodation because unlike Irish League sides, whose longest away trips don't amount to much more than 90 minutes, the Candystripes face games much further afield to the likes of Cork and Limerick, as well as matches in Dublin on a regular basis.

Barrett said: "You hear figures thrown around regarding our travelling costs every season, but they aren't as much as people think.

"We have struck special deals with coach companies and we only have two overnight stays in Limerick and Cork.

"A lot of our matches are in Dublin and with the roads now it doesn't take the same length of time as it used to. I would estimate we easily spend less that £20,000 on costs to go to away matches."

A plush new 6,000-capacity Brandywell stadium should be finished in around a year's time. It will include a state of the art 3G pitch which Derry feel will provide extra revenue.

"We expect our new stadium will be finished by this time next year. It will have a capacity of 6,000 which we feel is the right number and there will be corporate boxes in the ground which will help with extra revenue," said Barrett.

"We will also have a new 3G pitch which we feel is the way forward. It will be top of the range and will give us the opportunity to use the pitch on non-match days and rent it out, providing additional income.

"On the pitch, the team have struggled this season, but we are still in the Cup and looking to finish the campaign strongly.

"We believe the future can be bright for the club."

Later this year, Derry will celebrate being in the League of Ireland for 30 years.

They are hoping Republic of Ireland assistant manager and former Manchester United hero Roy Keane will attend the function.

Barrett added: "Our remit moving forward is to continue to develop young talent and bring them through and also to make Derry City successful.

"As a club we understand the FAI and League of Ireland have given us the platform to do that."

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