A strong first half of the 2013 campaign saw Derry City put themselves forward as genuine title contenders, but their excellent beginning belied their overall display.
A disappointing fourth place finish saw the northerners finish well off the pace – fifteen points adrift of eventual champions St Patrick’s Athletic.
Throughout August and September of last season, perhaps their most disastrous string of league results, they fell to defeat on seven ocassions out of eight matches. By then, serious damage was already done to their hopes of silverware and the Candystripes had to contend themselves with playing catch-up. But it was already too late.
Seeing that the Northern Ireland club were perhaps stagnating a bit under Declan Devine’s vision, both parted ways by mutual consent at the end of a surprisingly poor domestic campaign.
Part of Derry’s problems derived directly from their defence which conceded more goals than any other side in the top five last season with 39.
That said, they did outscore even St Pats with a haul of 57 league goals.
However, when all was said and done, Devine’s charges lacked consistency and hunger and wound up with nothing to show for their efforts.
With this season being the 25th anniversary of the year they won the treble of 1989, it’s likely that expectations and hopes around the city will be raised slightly, and while this will add to the verve and excitement of matchday, it’s also something that they’ll have to make sure doesn’t scupper their psychological plans.
Many involved with the new set-up will have breathed a huge sigh of relief at Derry’s good pre-season showing. A morale-boosting 4-2 win over rivals Finn Harps as well as a solid 2-0 victory against Glentoran give a good insight into how much concentration and energy they’ve poured into their friendlies. And although some fixtures have fallen victim to harsh weather conditions, everything has been pretty positive on the field of play.
Their recent 3-1 drubbing of Limavaddy with a side featuring lots of U19 talent will bestow a lot of their youngsters with confidence in themselves – it was a good sign for the future.
Last season: 4th
2014 odds: 9/1
In: Mark Stewart (Kilmarnock), Danny Ventre (Sligo Rovers), Cliff Byrne (Scunthorpe United), David Elebert (Shamrock Rovers), Aaron Barry (Sheffield United), Roddy Collins Jr (Athlone Town), Ciaran Gallagher (Finn Harps), John-Paul McGovern (Celtic Nation) and Enda Curren (Athlone).
Out: Mark Griffin (Dundalk), Stewart Greacen (Stenhousemuir), Patrick Kavanagh (Bohemians), Simon Madden (Shamrock Rovers), Ruaidhri Higgins (Dundalk), David McDaid (Coleraine) and Michael Rafter (Cork City).
With freshening up clearly needed, the Candystripes have rung a whole host of new changes in time for the new season. Most notably of all has been the selection of Roddy Collins as their new manager.
Having successfully guided Athlone Town to the First Division title in 2013, it’s clear he has the necessary skills and know-how to get the best out of any side. Of course, the Premier Division is a step up for any manager and despite Collins’s far-reaching experience, it’s likely he will face a few problems along the way.
His management career is far from illustrious and is quite stop-start (for reasons that have varied from being both inside and outside his control). In truth with a recent history of only leading clubs for a short period of time before leaving for pastures new, it’s vital that all involved at the club ensure the 52-year-old supremo is committed to the club for the long haul.
Amazingly, Derry City is the 10th club he has taken charge of on his 16-year managerial journey.
In short, it’s of paramount importance that he brings a clear, thought-out gameplan with him into the first string of competitive games. Otherwise, the challenge for the title could go up in smoke before August.
Nonetheless, Collins has bought well over the winter period, by drafting in the likes of Cliff Byrne, Danny Ventre and Aaron Barry, so it’s obvious that the boss has a good grasp on the football philosophy and style of play he wants his charges to adopt.
If Collins can channel his winning mentality from his time with the Town while also gradually getting to grips with the new football landscape of Ireland’s top tier, Derry stand a good chance of getting near their fourth place finish from last season.
Make no mistake, though, supporters would do well to remind themselves that this is a working project and all involved will need a generous dollop of patience and understanding as each gameweek passes by.
Any passionate fan will be keen to see the Derry head honcho’s regular starting XI become their perfect dozen, but they must be careful to remember that it will take time to find the right rhythm and the best formation.
Expect to see a miserly defence and fast-paced attacks with a steeliness to match when Derry finally get used to their gameplan and can streamline their new signings into the flow properly.
Of course, it’s still difficult to know what Collins’ preferred starting XI will be, but it’s fair to suggest he’ll be searching for a nice blend of youth and experience over the course of the long season.
Strongest XI: Gerard Doherty, David Elebert, Cliff Byrne, Ryan McBride, Aaron Barry, Patrick McEleney, Danny Ventre, Barry McNamee, Barry Molloy, Mark Stewart, Rory Patterson.
Now a key, valued member of Derry City’s first team, Barry McNamee looks set to build on his excellent displays as the new season fast approaches kick off.
Having turned heads from clubs in England and elsewhere since well over a year ago, the 22-year-old has several reasons to ensure this is his best ever footballing year. With the likes of Nottingham Forest and Brentford already keeping tabs on the Donegal native, it’s easy to see why there’s still so much hype surrounding him.
A keen eye for spectacular goals and an ability to bamboozle the best defences in the league with his trickery and skill, he has all the raw traits to make it big.
With senior Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’ Neill having recently stated his intention to unearth new League of Ireland talent by regularly attending games, McNamee would do well to attract as much positive interest as possible with consistently bright displays.
Of course, last season’s player of the month for April will look to benefit from the wealth of experience Collins should bring to the fray as well as learning from the Football League veterans who have come on board.
A recent Donegal Sports award winner for his shining performances under Devine, the future looks rosy for the rising star. And if he continues to show great heart and a good work-rate, this could be the season he bags his dream move abroad. And the only way to increase his chances is by delivering the goods for his current club – so there’s a glaring positive for both sides.
Of course, another massively important player for Derry will be the 2013 league’s top scorer – Rory Patterson. If he can reproduce the goods on the pitch once more, with the help of a creative midfield supporting cast, the home fixtures should become his happy hunting ground.
Keep an eye on
With the defence having been pinpointed early on by the Derry management as a potential weakness in the side, a whole host of experienced and talented backs were drafted in.
Cliff Byrne, who is also the club’s new captain was one such signing who has been brought on board to paper over the cracks in their defensive department. With over 300 games of English Football League experience playing for some Championship clubs and League One outfits, it’s clear he has the expertise to survive in a harsh and unforgiving football environment.
If he can marshall his back four well and compose a commanding and vocal presence at vital times, Derry should shore up quite well defensively; they certainly need it.
Where will they finish?
Although there has been ample time since their appointment in mid November for Collins and his assistant Peter Hutton to set up an adequate gameplan ahead of their opening set of fixtures, there is still much uncertainty as to how everything will pan out for them.
A colourful character with a storied career, Collins is a very focused and driven manager and he knows how to win games – the only trouble is, his Premier Division record isn’t quite as impressive as his First Division one.
No doubt, it will take time to adapt, even with the core group of talented performers he has at his disposal.
Often his controversial and outspoken nature can hinder and detract from the football side of things and that could prove to be a potential spanner in the works over the course of the season.
Nonetheless, progress and safety will likely be uppermost in the minds of all at Derry as they begin to prepare for life after Devine and the good of the club should shine through in the event of any potential bust-ups or hiccups.
However, for Collins to make a title-winning return to management in Ireland’s top-tier since Monaghan United’s disastrous withdrawal from the Premier Division in 2012 just doesn’t look as though it’s on the cards.
In short, expect the Candystripes to sacrifice some of their offensive fluidity in return for more defensive stability, but don’t be surprised to see more draws take place at the Brandywell as a result.