DECLAN DEVINE refuses to be fooled by Drogheda United manager, Mick Cooke’s mind games ahead of what he expects to be an extremely difficult encounter at Hunky Dorys Park tonight. (Kick-off 7.45 p.m).
SIMON COLLINS reports
The Drogheda boss believes the ‘Candy Stripes’ will push reigning champions Shamrock Rovers all the way for the Premier Division title this season and will prove a major test for his side when they meet in tonight’s Airtricity League clash.
However, Devine questioned the motive behind Cooke’s complimentary remarks, and refused to get carried away with the Brandywell club’s promising start to the campaign, suggesting his troops will take any praise with a ‘pinch of salt’.
“We have to be very wary of an old fox like Mick Cooke,” smiled Devine last night. “We have to take any compliments with a pinch of salt.
“Mick’s a good football man, he’s been about a long time so we’re not going to go down to Drogheda under any false pretences. We know we’re in for a very difficult game.”
Like Derry, Drogheda have made an impressive opening to the new season and after four games find themselves just three points behind the leaders.
And Devine is conscious of the potent goal threat Cooke’s men pose with Sean Brennan and Declan O’Brien having netted six goals between them during the opening series of fixtures.
“Drogheda are a good side and they possess quite a few players that are capable of scoring goals,” added the Derry boss. “It’s a place where we’ve found it difficult to get wins in the past.
“We fully expect a difficult game. Mick Cooke has not just strengthened his starting 11 but his squad as a whole. I feel that Mick has added some talented players and with eight goals scored in their first four games they now pose a real goalscoring threat to any team.
“All you have to do is look at their opening game of the season and see how unfortunate they were not to win against the league champions to see how far they have come under Mick Cooke.
“We are under no illusion that this will be a real ding-dong game, but I feel that we have showed a little more consistency over the last couple of weeks and that is what myself and Paul Hegarty have been working on with the team.
“I think we can over-analyse the opposition too much at times and we have to concentrate on ourselves. We bring a lot to the table ourselves this year in terms of scoring goals and defensively we’ve looked quite solid so we go down there full of confidence but we know it’s going to be tough. We have to set our sights on getting three points.”
Devine faces some very welcome selection headaches for tonight’s clash as skipper, Kevin Derry is available for the first time this season having recovered from a calf injury while Rory Patterson returns to the fold following his one match suspension.
While Deery is expected to start on the bench, Patterson - who has netted twice in the league so far - will likely join the rejuvenated Mark Farren in attack.
What will concern Derry’s management team is the injuries sustained to both in-form wingers Stephen McLaughlin and Patrick McEleney this week, both players faing late fitness tests today while Eddie McCallion will miss out with a bruised ankle.
Continued On Page 70
Indeed, McLaughlin has been a significant absentee from training sessions this week as he nurses a slight hamstring problem while Patrick McEleney is also doubtful for tonight’s game having suffered a knock to his toe.
“Kevin Deery comes back into the mix but whether he starts the game or not depends on the injuries to other players,” confirmed Devine. “We’re going to pick certain teams for different matches this year. We’ll assess how they are but we’ll be working with a similar panel as we had for the last two games.
“I’ve inherited a good bunch of players and have worked with them before. We haven’t won a league title here in 15 years and a lot of our players have a point to prove in that respect.
“So it’s important we’re up challenging at the right end of the table. We’ve got to make sure we get off to a good start.
“Rory coming back in is a big plus to us as well,” he continued. “We’re going down there with a full squad and Rory is a top player who brings a goal threat and there’s no reason why any of our strikers can’t play together and play in different partnerships.
“We’ll see where we are on Friday night and hopefully Rory can come back in and do a good job for us but it’s a good problem to have.
“I’ve always maintained that we have certain players that will suit certain matches. We had Owen Morrison coming on against Linfield and Davy McDaid playing earlier in the season and getting a goal so we have got an attacking threat and we have versatility.
“Stephen McLaughlin can play all over the pitch as well. I don’t want to be predictable this year. It’s important to have plenty of options and to have quality players available to come in and I’m delighted with that.”
Derry go into tonight’s game full of confidence following successive victories over Linfield and Cork City but they will be eager to get back to winning ways away from home having suffered that 1-0 defeat to Shelbourne at Tolka Park at the beginning of the month.
“The Shelbourne defeat is gone and we’ll forget about that. We want to go on and win every match we play in. We’re going down there on the back of two tremendous wins and with the full belief that our players are capable of going down to Drogeda and winning.
“It will be difficult. We gave away a two goal lead there last year but it’s a place where we can go and win and it won’t be through a lack of trying if we don’t achieve that.”
Drogheda will be without the services of Cathal Brady while Peter Hynes, Ryan Brennan and Declan O’Brien are all doubts ahead of the clash.
“I think Derry City are going to push Shamrock Rovers all the way this season and it’s going to be a tough match on Friday,” said Drogs boss, Mick Cooke. “Declan Devine has carried on from Stephen Kenny and they are no pushovers. It will no doubt be a big test for us on Friday night.
“The competition in training this week has been intense, all the lads want to start against Derry and I’ve had some very welcome selection headaches.
“I made seven changes to the team on Monday (EA Sports Cup win against Athlone) and I got the response I wanted. We have had four different scorers on Friday night against Bray and the same again on Monday. We aren’t relying on strikers to provide goals, they are coming from all over the pitch.”