DERRY CITY is expected to field one of the youngest teams in next season’s Premier Division, Stephen Kenny opting to remain faithful to last season’s youth policy.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
Despite the surprising number of players thought to be out of work in Dublin following significant budget reductions at so many clubs, Kenny has refused to bite and having already dimissed suggestions that Ken Oman would be returning, the Dubliner insists that nothing has changed at the Brandywell.
He agreed that a number of new players could arrive over the next few weeks - as others have left last season’s panel - but he was adamant that very little will change in relation to the local youth policy which was adopted last season.
Indeed, Kenny is confident and ready to unleash his baby-faced assassins into the Premier Division arena convinced that his youngsters will have learned from last season and continue to develop.
“Since I arrived at the Brandywell in 2004, we’ve always had young players in the team,” he declared. “That’s nothing new. We also had quite a few young players in the squad during during the 2006 season when we played six games in Europe having won the League Cup and FAI Cup.
“I brought in Paddy McCourt, Ruaidhri Higgins, Barry Molloy and Killian Brennan who were all considered under-21 players when competing in Europe and Kevin Deery had come up through the youth ranks.
“When I returned from Scotland, Conor Sammon, Thomas Stewart and Niall McGinn were all very young players when joining the squad, so bringing in youngsters is not new to us,” claimed the Dubliner.
But he did agree that the main difference between the groups of players he mentioned and the vast majority of those currently under contract, had progressed through local football circles, some of whom also returning home from clubs across the Channel.
“The main difference is that last year we introduced so many local players to the senior arena in the League of Ireland. Many of those had come through our underage system and, indeed, were teenagers.
“Some of those teenagers made their presence felt and staked serious claims for first team places at 17, 18 and 19 years of age and, as far as I’m concerned, that unusual. It was a unique situation and I think it was very exciting to watch those players develop and progress their careers.
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“I felt we adopted a different approach and while it was a very challenging time, the players managed to step up and having won the league in the end, I think it’s fair to suggest that we achieved our objective and deserved to gain immediate promotion.”
However, the return to the Premier Division would bring new challenges and Kenny agreed that some players may struggle in the heat of the physical battle.
Kenny has identified and signed no shortage of talented, attacking midfield players for next season’s campaign and while that move will certainly be appreciated, but did the lack of new faces within his defensive and forward units give him cause for concern?
“Our new signings have been associated with the midfield area but we do have young and experienced defenders. Young players such as Daniel Lafferty, Shane McEleney and Seamus Sharkey must also step up to the mark to replace the experience of players such as Peter Hutton, Darren Kelly, Clive Delaney and Ken Oman etc.
“They are all talented defenders, they are good young players and they will also be looking forward to the challenges which lie ahead,” answered the Brandywell boss.
“We will face even more challenges in the Premier Division but I think it will be exciting to see if our young players can continue to step up. I agree that some will step up quicker than others, but I believe in the players we have retained and the squad we are attempting to assemble.
“The Premier Division is a big step-up but we can’t afford to be fearful and we must concentrate on improving our play with a really good pre-season campaign and hard work in training.
“We will face a Baptism of Fire in our opening games when facing three of the top clubs in the country. Sligo Rovers are the FAI Cup holders, Shamrock Rovers are the Premier Division champions and Sporting Fingal continue to strengthen having qualified for Europe. That’s a very difficult start for us, but we’ll be ready for the challenge,” maintained the Dubliner.
“We can’t afford to be fearful and the young players will continue to grow up together within what I believe is a very good group and while our pre-season opens on Friday (today), quite a few of the players having already been working hard on their fitness levels which is excellent.”