As he wakes in his room inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel just outside Dublin, this morning Derry City manager Declan Devine would be forgiven for feeling as excited about today’s final as any Derry City supporter.
Devine, who took up the job as manager of his hometown club back in January, has enjoyed mixed fortunes this year but the verdict on his first year as manager could be a resounding positive one should he guide his team to victory in the final of the FAI Ford Cup later today.
“Everyone’s really relaxed and I am feeling more relaxed than I have ever felt all season,” said Devine.
Early in the season, Derry lost out to Crusaders in the final of the Setanta Sports Cup at the Oval in Belfast. It’s surely an experience that no manager or player would like to witness twice in the one season.
Devine said that the defeat to Crusaders has helped him to approach today’s final differently and explained that should Derry win today’s showpiece then it would mean much more than just an excuse to party.
“If anything, I think I feel more calm in the run up to the FAI Cup final. We were big favourites going into the Setanta Cup final but we are underdogs against St. Patrick’s Athletic.
“We have had over two weeks without a game and if I am honest I just want the game to come as quickly as possible - we are fed up waiting, we want to get out on the pitch and do our city, our supporters and our families proud.”
He continued: “Obviously there will be a great party atmosphere should we win but the important thing to remember is that if we come back home to Derry with the trophy it means not only have we brought with us silverware but we have also brought with us the promise of European football at the Brandywell next season.”
The venue for today’s final, the Aviva Stadium, is regarded by many as one of the top stadia in Europe. However, despite the fact that his team are competing inside the national stadium and have all been suited and booted for the occasion Devine maintains that the only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch.
“Sometimes players can get caught up in the hype surrounding a cup final and it’s my job to bring them back down and keep their feet on the ground.
“It’s a big game - that’s a given. But the same rules apply in this game that apply in any other we have played. It’s about sticking to our game plan, staying focused and working as a team.
“It’s always nice to get fitted for a new suit but I’d much rather come back home with a winners’ medal around my neck,” he smiled.
Devine, who played in goal for Derry City in the 1997 FAI Cup final against Shelbourne at Dalymount Park said whilst he would have liked to have played in the national stadium during his career, he saw today as his chance to fill that void.
“When I was playing football all of the finals tended to be in Dalymount or in Tolka Park so I never got the chance to play at Lansdowne Road but I was there in 2006 along with Stephen [Kenny] when Derry City won the cup in 2006.
“But the venue is incidental when you are playing because I would rather win on small park pitch than lose inside the national stadium - it’s all about winning, everything else is just a bonus.”
Derry City’s league form this season left a lot to be desired for long stretches of the campaign but with the return of such key players as captain Kevin Deery, Rory Patterson and the appearance out of nowhere from Barry McNamee the Candy Stripes won their last four league games.
“I think it’s the first time since I started managing the club back in January that I have had a full squad to choose from. It’s a nice complaint to have and although I have a few tough choices to make I would think that everyone will be involved in the squad.
“Sunday’s final is the last time that this team will play together as a unit. It’d be great if we could end the season on a high note and give the 5,000 or 6,000 or so supporters who’ll be at the Aviva cheering us on something to smile about.
“St. Patrick’s Athletic are a very good team but I have faith in my players and with a bit of luck it’ll be us who will be celebrating on Sunday night.”