The label “surprise package” is often bandied about. In the Airtricity League this season, Bray Wanderers are the club who have taken up that label. The Seagulls, relegation candidates before the season started, are riding high in second place- a point off leaders Shamrock Rovers after eight matches.
But the Bray “surprise package” is widely believed to be a flimsy one- even their manager Pat Devlin acknowledged that the real battle for them this season is against relegation. The real “surprise package”, if you could call them that, has been Derry City. Derry won promotion from the first division last season with a young squad and this season sit in third having lost just one match from eight.
Bray’s early league success may be based on shaky foundations, but not so for Derry. Stephen Kenny has quietly built a squad with considerable depth and talent for a promoted side. The talented youth players like Patrick McEleney, David McDaid and Daniel Lafferty have been complemented by proven players like Gareth McGlynn, Ruadhri Higgins and Libyan international striker Eamonn Zayed. Derry boast a midfield which can match any in the league, a solid defence and goalkeeper and a striker in Eamonn Zayed who excels at leading the line.
Key to their success have been their attacking players like McGlynn, Zayed and McEleney. Players like Kevin Deery and Ruadhri Higgins allow McGlynn and McEleney to go forward from midfield and help out Zayed – who operates equally as well as a poacher or as a link player.
Their weakness may be in a lack of strength in depth when compared with Shamrock Rovers or Sligo Rovers, but Derry could feasibly aim for a European spot this season- an achievement made all the more remarkable considering the trouble they were in just two seasons ago, when they were demoted after illegal payments were made to players. Their main rivals for a shot at qualification for the Europa League should probably be Dundalk, St. Pats and possibly Bohemians. Out of those four, all suffer from the same problem as Derry- simply not having the resources to match Rovers’ big squad.
Derry’s resurgence, though, should give hope to to clubs like Cork City, Shelbourne, Waterford and Longford who had extended spells in the top flight but now find themselves chasing promotions. The
Candystripes have shown that the gap is not too great between the two divisions and with solid investment, the right tactics and ambition promoted clubs can go far.