Derry ready for Baptism of Fire

CORK CITY'S shock demotion to the First Division has raised quite a few eyebrows this week, none more so than at Brandywell Stadium.

Indeed, the "Leesiders" surprise involvement in the First Division campaign - which kicks-off next Friday night - has guaranteed an ultra competitive race for the title with Derry, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Shelbourne all expected to harbour aspirations of promotion.

And given Derry City's opening fixtures, it's fair to suggest that many questions could be answered over the opening three weeks of the campaign.

Next Friday night's opening game against Cork City at the Brandywell will be followed by difficult away trips to Limerick and Waterford and team boss, Stephen Kenny, agreed that Cork's inclusion in the lower league would make it an ultra-competitive division.

"I think we will face a real baptism of fire with three very tough fixtures against teams who, I believe, will be challenging for the title. Yes, it will be a tough start for us, but we must meet that challenge head on and make sure we have prepared professionally," he said.

While the "Candy Stripes" have their own problems with injuries to key players such as Kevin Deery and Stephen Parkhouse, Derry also appear to have encountered problems with the registration of two of their younger players due to recent UEFA legislation.

Patrick McEleney and Thomas McBride have returned home from English clubs, Sunderland and Northampton Town respectively, but as both are under 18 years of age, their international clearance will take longer than normal. Indeed, both players could actually be deemed ineligible for the opening matches of the new season.

International clearance for the players who have arrived from the Irish League - Vincent Sweeney, Stephen Parkhouse, Mark Scoltock and Darren Cassidy - has arrived but because of the age of both McEleney and McBride, it could actually take between four and six weeks to clear the registration of those players.

It's understood new legislation has been introduced by FIFA in an effort to avoid young players being exploited by football clubs - particularly players from Africa and Asia - and in order to carry out vital checks on the player's future welfare, including educational programmes, additional time must be taken if such players are to be protected.

It's also understood that the parents of both McBride and McEleney must submit information to the FAI in relation to residence etc., before clearance can be secured.

However, it's not known how long this process will take, but what is clear is that FIFA have opted to err on the side of caution and take whatever time is necessary to ensure that young players will not be exploited by football clubs.

And with Derry City officially receiving a First Division Licence on Monday, February 15th, it's believed it could take another three weeks before the players involved can be registered.

'Candy Stripes' back

in action tonight

Despite the cancellation of the proposed match against Sligo Rovers this weekend, Derry City will be back in action tonight when Stephen Kenny's side entertains the team that will represent Magee College in the Collingwood Cup competition which will take place in the city next week (K.O. 7.45 p.m.)

"Obviously I'm anxious to get another match under our belt before the season starts while Magee are currently preparing for their Collingwood Cup programme, so the match will be beneficial to both clubs," said Kenny.

"Another home game will give our new players another chance to perform in the Brandywell and that's important. The extra practise will be welcomed by the players and I'm delighted to get another game."

James McClean is well on his way to making a full recovery from the groin injury picked up against Sporting Fingal but both Kevin Deery (calf) and Stephen Parkhouse (knee) are not ready to return to action just yet.

"Stephen Parkhouse is making progress and has resumed training, but Kevin Deery's recovery has been slower than expected. He's expected to start jogging next week."