It was a case of ‘back to porridge’ for Derry City manager, Declan Devine, as he surveyed his squad of players on the first day of pre-season training yesterday morning.
Twenty players took part in training and with no injuries to report over the Christmas holiday period it was easy to see why Devine was content with how the opening session went.
“We had a very good session down in Magee and all of the boys worked very hard,” said Devine.
“For the first day, I was pleased with how things went but we have to push on now and get ourselves into the best possible condition for what will more than likely be a very tough season.”
Derry City has also linked up with North West Regional College to assess the fitness of the players, a move which Devine thinks has been very beneficial.
“We have also tied in well with the North West Regional College so that we can examine each player’s application and fitness levels. We certainly got the ball rolling today and I was very happy with how everyone applied themselves.”
Devine wanted as many of his players as possible to make a start on their fitness before club training training commenced, therefore Derry City players living locally have spent the last few weeks working with a fitness coach called Seamus Fox.
“Most of the players have made a start but you are always going to have players who are playing catch up.
“In terms of the off-season, the local players have worked very hard. In terms of the players we’ve signed, some of them have come back in good nick whilst some of them still have a bit of work to do but that’s all part and parcel of pre-season training.”
Derry strengthened their team during the off-season. Devine has added defenders, midfielders and a forward to his panel of players but he admits he is determined to add a few more new faces before the 2013 season starts.
The Brandywell boss is also faced with the tough task of filling the 17 goal void left by left-winger Stephen McLaughlin who joined English Championship side Nottingham Forest recently.
“It’s no secret that we need to strengthen the squad and everyone knows I am in the hunt for a left sided midfielder since we sold Stephen McLaughlin to Nottingham Forest.
“In my opinion, there is no panic because we have versatile players at this club and I won’t be making any panic buys. If I sign a player I have to be confident that he will help to improve and develop the team. It has to be in the interests of the club.
“Patrick McEleney can play on the left, Paddy Kavanagh can play on the left and I don’t see any reason why Sean Houston can’t play on the left.
“We are certainly looking for a left sided player but like I said I won’t rush out and bring someone in just to make up the numbers.
“It’s common knowledge that I want to bring in a striker, defender and a left sided midfielder and I know we have been linked with striker Tadgh Purcell but he is just one of five or six I am looking at.”
Devine added: “It’s a tough task trying to replace someone as talented Stephen McLaughlin because when you look around the league [League of Ireland] you realise there are not too many players who are good on the left and who can sign for us immediately.
“We have broadened our search to England, Scotland and the Irish League. We have a few irons in the fire and I would hope to have something done and dusted within the next few weeks.
“There’ll also be a lot of players based in England who will become available at the end of January so we will just have to wait and see what happens.”
One of the most notable developments within the Derry City squad last season was the emergence of 20 year-old midfielder, Barry McNamee.
Donegal born McNamee, who will celebrate his 21st birthday next month, was part of the Derry City youth set-up in 2011 but towards the end of last season he took the League of Ireland by surprise with some fantastic performances.
McNamee was playing to such a high standard last season he claimed a place in the team that faced off against St. Patrick’s Athletic in the FAI Cup final in November and he also attracted attention from Nottingham Forest.
Devine said he was hopeful that other members of the youth set-up could have a similar impact next season.
“If I think the young players are good enough and are ready for the challenge I will not hesitate in giving them a chance.
“We are also very fortunate that we have a talented bunch of youth coaches working for this club and I trust those guys 100 per cent.
“I speak to John [Quigg - youth team coach] on a regular basis and we have a good idea of who we think will be able to make the step up next season.
“This club is all about promoting local talent. The youth set-up is a massive part of this squad and even to this day all you have to do is look at the senior team to see how important locally based players are to this team.
“I have no doubt that in seasons to come we will have a team made up of all local players but at this moment in time we have a really good mixture.
“We have a lot of local players - some of whom were reared just a stone’s throw away from the Brandywell. We also have a few experienced players from outside of Derry. I am really pleased with how things are going.”
Devine celebrated his first year in charge of Derry on January 6. He said that he still wakes up every morning with the same sense of excitement he did a year ago and added that he is looking forward to the challenge of European football in 2013.
“Realistically, there are four trophies we can win next season and make no mistake, I intend to be in the hunt for every single one of them.
“It’s still a great honour for me to be manager of my hometown club and I feel every bit as passionate about next season as I did about 2012.
“European football is massive for the club, the city, the players and the staff.
“We will need a lot of luck in Europe in terms of who we will come up against but everyone at this club is looking forward to the challenge of trying get through one or two rounds - it’ll be very exciting,” he said.