For Derry City and their legions of supporters, it is a case of first Aviva Stadium, last night Guildhall Square and forward into Europe!
At last night’s homecoming, Derry City Club Chairman, Philip O’Doherty told the crowd of several thousand of his pride at leading the club to FAI Cup success and, as a result, European football competition.
“We intend on getting into the group stages of Europe,” he said to cheers.
O’Doherty’s club have now qualified for the 2013 Europa Cup thanks to that memorable, nerve-jangling, historic 3-2 victory over St. Patrick’s Athletic at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. And happy Derry City fans braved the cold and the rain last night in order to welcome their heroes back home following that triumph. As has become customary, the Derry players paraded their latest silverware, their fifth FAI Cup, their third in ten years, to an enthusiastic crowd.
Supporters clubs’ flags billowed in front of the walls as the team arrived to strains of ‘We Are the Champions’ and, of course, ‘Teenage Kicks’.
Those tense faces from the Aviva were replaced by wide smiles, tired eyes and victory songs by the time the party reached Guildhall Square at 7pm.
There, City’s manager Declan Devine, assistant manager Paul Hegarty and the playing staff were greeted with cheer after cheer as they were reintroduced to the best supporters in Ireland. Mark Farren, having opted to leave City, was greeted with a large chorus of ‘There is only one Mark Farren’.
Mayor of Derry, Councillor Kevin Campbell, described the players as “heroes of the city”.
“You were absolutely incredible,” he said.
Declan Devine, in his first season at the helm of his hometown club, had to rebuild what was a depleted side, overcome limited budgets, a lengthy injury list and his doubters. It was a sweet moment for the Creggan man as he proudly led his club in the victory homecoming procession. It was an occasion he described as “tremendous”.
“Paul Hegarty and I were appointed on January 6. At that meeting we said we wanted to get the place back rocking. Well, these boys behind me rocked the Aviva yesterday. When the players were out on their feet with minutes to go, you fans rocked the place and got us back on our feet again.
“It has been three short years since we were relegated but local people built the club up again. Now we’re back and we want more major trophies. We will be back again and with your help we will do everything we can to get this club where it belongs.”
Club captain, Kevin Deery, said: “I’d like to thank everyone of you for supporting us. We deserved to win it yesterday - light ‘er up!”
It is hard to believe that only three seasons ago this club were relegated to the First Division for financial irregularities. Yesterday young and old supporters stood side by side, braving the winter chill to welcome what is possibly the youngest ever Derry City FAI Cup winning team.
Many younger supporters will be in danger of believing that supporting Derry City is like this all the time. City have been First Division League champions, Setanta Cup finalists, League Cup winners and now FAI Cup winners, all in the space of a couple of years.
A few fans were old enough to remember Derry’s triumphalist homecomings from Belfast following IFA Cup successes. One of those was 82 year-old Thomas McGowan of Bishop Street.
“This is a large crowd and I remember when the streets were lined for hours for homecoming parades. Bands would be playing when we arrived at places as far away as Cork for games.
“I’ve been to all the Cup Finals as far back as the IFA Cup in ‘64. All of them including this today have been great.”
Many of those who gathered to welcome Derry City home yesterday evening also discussed the clubs previous forays into European club competition and dreamed of what might be. Looking ahead to the Europa League draw. Michael Doherty of Whitehouse, said: “I’d love to get another Scottish team. Somewhere not too far where we can take lots of fans. It would help keep costs down for the club too.”
Many will hope that this success will boost attendances at the Brandywell.
Teenager Orla Logue described the Cup win as “great for the City and especially for sport in the city.” Her friend Amy Gorman, by her own admission, is: “a big Derry fan, I go to all the matches but I dragged Orla, Aine Rooney and Caoimhe McPhilemy onto the bandwagon tonight.”
Suitably enough as the Continent beckons, they and the rest of the delighted crowd then joined Derry midfield general Barry Molloy in a rendition of ‘DCFC allez, allez, allez!’
Europe best be ready!