Christmas comes early for delighted McLaughlin

CHRISTMAS has come early for Stephen McLaughlin, the 20-year-old winger who will continue the Inishowen connection at the Brandywell which has proved so significant down the years.

The Clonmany man, who will officially put pen to paper this week on a two year contract, is excited at the move and his priority is to establish himself in the Derry City first team as soon as possible.

Having spent last season representing Finn Harps, McLaughlin's contract expired at the end of last season and while he is now free to join the "Candy Stripes," the club may well go to a Tribunal to decide the compensation fee to be paid unless they can reach agreement.

In any event, it's clear that Derry boss, Stephen Kenny, was anxious to sign the player having watched him perform for Harps last season.

And for the player, there was no doubt as to where he wished to further his career.

"Once Derry City made contact, I was anxious to sign for the club," said Stephen yesterday. "I had hoped to travel to Derry today (Monday) to sign a contract but the freezing conditions on the roads ruled that out.

"I live close to the Isle of Doagh in the Clonmany area and given the current weather conditions, I'll leave it to later in the week when, hopefully, the weather will improve," he added.

Having played his youth football in the Inishowen League with Clonmany Shamrocks, McLaughlin made a distinct impression in Ballybofey when invited to Finn Harps to play in the club's Under-20 team before progressing to the first team squad.

"I played my first full season in the Harps' first team squad last season after Sean McGowan and James Gallagher brought me through to the senior ranks. And having secured a first team starting position, I'm anxious to do the same at the Brandywell," he continued.

"I'm delighted to be joining Derry City now that they've returned to the Premier Division and I think it's a superb opportunity for me to progress my career with a club that is determined to get back to the success it enjoyed in the past. When contact was made by Stephen Kenny, I couldn't refuse as I may never get the opportunity again."

The son of Neil and Carmel McLaughlin, Stephen is the second oldest of three brothers and while his mind he had made up his mind immediately, he also opted to take advice from people he trusted.

"I spoke to Fergal Harkin's father, Pascal, from Ballyliffin, in relation to my future and, indeed, to Harps manager, James Gallagher and goalkeeper, Gavin Cullen and all the advice pointed me in the same direction.

"But Stephen Kenny had sold the club to me in our first conversation and I think it will be great experience for me to play in the Premier Division next season."

He was particularly anxious to establish himself as quickly as possible but realised it wouldn't be easy.

"Derry have a big number of quality players in midfield and while I believe I'm equally comfortable on either wing, I can also play up top if required. So I'm not joining Derry just to sit on the substitutes' bench when I could have commanded a first team place with Finn Harps.

"Obviously, I still have a lot to learn and I'm eager to do that as I believe that playing for Derry City will improve me as a player," claimed Stephen.

The opportunity to perform in front of a large Brandywell attendance was also a pulling factor in his move across the border.

"The best four games, from a Finn Harps' perspective, were against Derry City last season. Playing in the Brandywell in front of the large attendances can be a daunting experience, but when the matches got under way the adrenalin took over and players don't seem to notice the crowd so much.

"But when we played in the last match, I stopped for a moment and had a look around me and the place was bouncing, it was amazing and I want to be involved in those types of matches week after week," concluded the player.