Derry City centurion Ronan Boyce primed for big 2024 campaign

There’s no point in asking Derry City right-back Ronan Boyce what the Candystripes’ objectives for the 2024 League of Ireland season are. There is only one aim; to become the first Premier Division champions not named Shamrock Rovers since 2019.

But how do you bridge that gap and mount a challenge vs Stephen Bradley’s four-in-a-row champions? Well, football is a simple game as they say, and goals win games. Alex Ferguson might argue that defenses win titles, but Derry are already well stocked in that area, having finished last season’s league campaign with 18 clean sheets. 

​Ruaidhrí Higgins’ side only conceded 24 goals in their 36 Premier Division outings in 2023, seeing them rank highest in this department, conceding three goals less than their closest challengers, Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers.  

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In Boyce’s view, it is up the far end of the pitch where Derry will need to improve on their 2023 output if they are to put an end to Rovers’ ‘Drive for Five’.

“I think we need to score more goals,” he says. “We finished last season with the best defensive record in the league and we played well. We dominated possession in most games, but I think it was just that lack of killer edge to probably finish off games that hurt us.

“Because when you’re playing well and you’re dominating games, but it’s still nil-nil, the other team gets a boost from that because they’re still in it. It’s important in these games to get that first goal because when you’re 1-0 up, then you can kind of, not relax, but you can take confidence from it and you can defend that lead.” 

The signing of 32-year old Patrick Hoban from Dundalk should certainly help City to become more prolific. Departing Oriel Park as The Lilywhites’ record goalscorer with a staggering 150 goals in 296 games, the Galwegian will be hoping to have a better run of things at the Brandywell than the departing Jamie McGonigle who failed to replicate his fine 2022 form last season.

Whist his goal scoring prowess is reason alone for Derry supporters to be getting excited for the upcoming campaign, it is Hoban’s remarkable trophy haul and experience of winning games when the going gets tough, that should encourage City fans to dare to dream of their first Premier Division crown since the 1996/97 season.

Hoban’s CV boasts three SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division titles and two FAI Cup trophies, with his 2018 season under Stephen Kenny standing out in particular, as the Loughrea man scored a record 29 league goals during Dundalk’s league and cup double-winning campaign.

“Obviously, I know how big of a player Pat can be for us from playing against him over the past couple of years and even from watching him when I was growing up,” Boyce said.

“The amount of goals he’s scored and the amount of big goals he’s scored in this league is incredible. I can already see in training that he’s a winner and that he’s hungry to score more goals. That’s probably what we were kind of missing a bit last year and I’m sure he’ll be hoping to have a good year for us this season by finishing off the chances that we create for him.”

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It is difficult to think that Derry’s hopes of putting the sword to Shamrock Rovers and St Pat’s won’t be determined by how well the former Dundalk contingent of their squad, (Hoban, Michael Duffy, Daniel Kelly and Patrick McEleney) can rediscover the chemistry from their Oriel Park days. 

City skipper McEleney underwent surgery in Sweden three months ago to deal with an injury which severely limited the playmaker’s game time in 2023. Boyce believes that if the club captain can stay fit and have an injury-free campaign, Derry will be right in the mix come November.

“‘Fats’ has probably been one of the best players in the country over the past decade,” he says. He was well unlucky last year with injuries, but even off the field, the stuff he did even when he wasn’t playing last year, he’s just massive in our changing room. He’s a proper captain.

“When he played against Pat’s in the final game of the season last year, he was probably the best player on the pitch, and he was half-injured like! 

“I think everybody in the league, if you know the League of Ireland, knows just how good a player he is, from what he showed over the years at Dundalk, and from what he’s done with us when he’s been fit and ready. So hopefully now he can get a clean run of it and I’m sure we’ll get the fruits of that this season.”

In what was a generally disappointing European display from League of Ireland clubs last season, Derry were undoubtedly the standard bearers for Irish clubs on the continent. City’s run was eventually brought to an end in the cruelest of fashions, however, as they were defeated by Kazakh side Tobol in a penalty shootout.

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Ironically, it was a Boyce screamer against Cork City last October which confirmed the Candystripes’ place back in Europe for this coming season. With over 100 Derry City appearances to his name at the tender age of 22, centurion Boyce is adamant that himself and his teammates learned a lot from their exposure to European football last year.

I think it’s a massive learning experience. It was probably my first time coming up against left wingers that are full internationals,” he says.

“When we played KuPS, I think the left winger had caps for Finland. Then against Tobol, the left winger had caps for Serbia. That will definitely stand to me, that experience of playing against players who’ve played at an extremely high level. 

“We competed very well with these players, so I think we took great confidence from Europe last year. I know it probably didn’t work out for us in the league then, we couldn’t take what we’d learned from it into the league at the end of the year. But from those games in Europe, it’s massive to know that we can go out and compete with any team this season coming.”

The Candystripes kick off their League of Ireland campaign tonight, as they welcome Kevin Doherty’s Drogheda United to the Brandywell.

The Author

Gareth Lyons

DCU STUDENT, AGED 21. MANCHESTER UNITED, SHELBOURNE AND IRELAND SUPPORTER. ALSO WRITE FOR THE COLLEGE VIEW. FOOTBALL, GAA, RUGBY AND F1 FAN. EMAIL: GARETHLYONS00@GMAIL.COM

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