This time last year, we had the glitz and the glamour of a certain Roddy Collins lighting up the Brandywell’s media room, with promises of title triumphs and the good times coming back to Derry City FC.
Those promises turned out to be as empty as the feeling in City fans’ stomachs, as the whole Roddy experience turned sour within a matter months. Ahead of the new campaign, expectations are lower than ever for the Candystripes with Peter Hutton facing into the huge challenge of winning over a restless Brandywell faithful.
The decision makers at Derry City have taken a lot of stick for their decision to appoint Collins to the hot seat in 2014 and rightly so, with the league’s most controversial character forking out huge amounts on wages for players who were clearly close to the end of their sell buy date.
Collins’ exclusion of star striker Rory Patterson was the beginning of the end for the former Bohemians league winning manager, but despite the swift departure of Collins, Derry City have cut all ties with Patterson over the off-season in an attempt to reduce the wage bill, a decision met with sheer amazement by City followers.
Also farmed out of the club for similar reasons during the close season were experienced midfielders Barry Molloy and Danny Ventre, while back up goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher has returned to Finn Harps, following an unsuccessful spell with Derry.
Despite being put on the transfer listed alongside Patterson, who eventually signed for Cockburn City in Australia, Shane McEleney remains a part of Peter Hutton’s side and looks to be the stand out defender in this squad for 2015, making the initial call to transfer list him an even more mind-boggling one.
Looking at the positives however, the recent additions of former Sligo Rovers striker Anthony Elding and Northern Ireland under-21 midfielder Senan Clucas have brought an air of positivity to an otherwise pessimistic fan base ahead of the new season.
While Elding arrives at the club as a controversial figure due to his poor disciplinary record, he did score some big goals for Sligo Rovers, including an FAI Cup Final decider, so followers of the Candystripes will be hoping that is the sort of headline he is known for this year.
Given Clucas’ experience at football league level in England with the likes of Preston North End and Bristol Rovers, the midfielder arrives at the Brandywell with huge expectations on his shoulders, despite his tender age of just 22.
Derry City has always been famed for its ability to produce top local talent and with the likes of Paddy McCourt, James McClean and Connor Salmon all plying their trades internationally in recent years, the hope for fresh talent coming through is always there.
The latest product to come off this fine Derry City production line is of course Michael Duffy, who has signed for Scottish football giants Glasgow Celtic in recent weeks. While the loss of Duffy is a dent to the quality on offer to Peter Hutton and his backroom staff, the likes of Mark Timlin will be looking to step up to the plate and show everyone that he can be the next big thing to come out of the League of Ireland.
Derry City fans expect their team to play a certain way and with an attacking swagger, especially at home, and the lack of that under Roddy Collins was the number one reason the atmosphere turned toxic during his short reign. While Peter Hutton has faced similar accusations of unattractive football, there is no doubt the quality is there among his key players to put on some top performances, even against the league’s big hitters.
However, the biggest problem this Derry City squad face ahead of the 2015 SSE Airtricity League season is a lack of depth within the roster. This issue is especially apparent when you take a look at the options available to Hutton across the back line.
As already mentioned in terms of first team options, there is high quality available to Hutton with the likes of Shaun Kelly, Dean Jarvis, Ryan McBride and Shane McEleney all proven at this level. However, in reserve, Hutton only has two senior back-ups with almost no League of Ireland experience between them.
Elsewhere, while the Derry midfield looks to have plenty of exciting young talent in it, you would have to worry about the lack of an enforcer, for want of a better word, now that Danny Ventre and Barry Molloy have moved on.
Finally, at this business end of the park, the addition of Anthony Elding may prove to be as problematic as it could be inspired, with questions over his ability to play with a partner such as Patrick McEleney.
Former Cork City man Elding, has always hit his best form when operating as a lone striker and given his explosive personality, you do have to question if it may have a negative effect on the performances of, the usually excellent, McEleney this term.
Should that potential partnership fail to flourish, the back up options of Cillian Morrison, Nathan Boyle and Ryan Curran will not exactly have opposition supporters quaking in their boots with all due respects.
With expectations lower than ever ahead of the 2015 season, Peter Hutton’s troops may be given time by their followers to ease their way into this new era for Derry football and hopefully find a style of play that entertains in the process.
However, while expectations remain low, nobody inside or outside of the club is expecting City to be anywhere near the relegation places so the opening day encounter away to Galway and the home fixture with Drogheda United on March 27th will be ties targeted for maximum points, especially given the tough start City are likely to face with Dundalk, St.Pat’s, Sligo Rovers and Cork City all on the cards in the opening six games.
That statement should tell you all you need to know about the targets and goals of this Derry City side for 2015 but given their rich cup pedigree of recent years, you wouldn’t rule out the Candystripes from surprising a few in their own little way this season.
Predicted finish: 7th
Player to watch: Mark Timlin
Greatest strength: A fluid midfield full of exciting and young talent.
Greatest weakness: Unfortunately for Derry City, their greatest strength is also their greatness weakness with the lack of a midfield general, meaning Peter Hutton’s back four will have a lot of work to do this season.