TONIGHT’S high profile televised Airtricity Premier Division encounter at the Brandywell has been over-shadowed by off-the-field activities, much to the disappointment of Derry City boss. Stephen Kenny. (Kick-off: 7.35 p.m.)
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And while the Brandywell boss refused to involve himself in the controversy which was seen Shamrock Rovers supporters’ buses boycotting the game, Kenny had no doubt that the recent difficulties in Tallaght Stadium, when Eamon Zayed claimed he was racially abused by a Rovers player, certainly appears to have a bearing on the matter.
Given the game is to be covered ‘live’ by RTE’s Network Two cameras, an opportunity to showcase Derry’s significant progression this season with a near all-local team, has disappointed the powers that be at Brandywell.
Yet the local club has refused to get involved in a slanging match with the Dubliners and, instead, concentrated on their own support at the game as the “Candy Stripes” strive to move to within one point of the league leaders.
Earlier this week, the local club was stunned to receive an e-mail - signed by six Shamrock Rovers’ Supporters’ Clubs - announcing that they had cancelled all buses travelling to Brandywell for the game due to the fact that they had “genuine fears for the safety” of their supporters and the “potential damage to hired transport and the front-line risks involved for coach companies’ staff.”
The statement went on: “This unprecedented move comes on the back of several clearly premeditated attacks in the recent past on Shamrock Rovers supporters’ buses in and around the Brandywell, which remains a no-go area for the local police.
“This alarming situation needs to be immediately addressed by Derry City FC, especially as the club enjoys a unique and privileged position in that it is based in a jurisdiction governed by Northern Ireland’s Irish Football Association and yet plays in the Republic of Ireland’s FAI Airtricity League.”
Predictably, the statement has infuriated the Derry City Board of Directors who have not only dismissed the statement as “absolute rubbish,” but the directors also held the view that the recent Zayed controversy and, indeed, the fact that match is to be shown ‘live’ on television, has weighed heavily on the actions of the visiting club.
In fact, the local PSNI also responded to Rovers’ suggestions that the Brandywell area “remains a no-go area for the local police” when contacted yesterday, the police confirmed that their relationship with Derry City FC has been working well and that it was “right and proper” that the club’s stewards continue to manage matches within the stadium.
Derry PSNI Statement
The police statement read: “This system works very well and there has been no significant disorder in recent years. The PSNI has an operational presence at significant football matches and ensures the safety of visiting football supporters and, where appropriate, can escort buses and prevent incidents like stoning.
“It is important to note that the PSNI have no intelligence at this stage to suggest there would be any threat against visiting fans or their buses. There is no major crowd/hooligan issues associated with Derry City Football Club and this is one of the main reasons why police are seldom required to enter the football stadium during a game. However, it is important to note that the PSNI can enter the football stadium and has plans in place that allow us to do so in an emergency situation.”
The police also confirmed that they had not received any contact from Shamrock Rovers expressing their concerns. “We would be happy to discuss them if they would like to contact us at Strand Road police station,” the statement concluded.
When asked if this latest controversy was having any effect on his pre-match preparations, Kenny dismissed the question but he again backed his leading striker following the stance he took in relation to being racially abused by an unnamed Rovers player.
In fact, that controversy was discussed by an FAI committee on Tuesday of this week, with the findings not to be published until next Monday.
“Regardless the outcome of the findings, I think Eamon took a brave decision to name another player who abused him racially. He certainly does not need this attention, but in my view he has been brave to make a stand, protecting the interests of young players coming into the game,” claimed Kenny.
“His decision to bring the matter to the attention of the FAI was the correct one as future young players could be intimidated by such remarks. Eamon is experienced enough to take this in his stride - his has been playing in the league for almost a decade - and he has never made an official complaint before. He felt he had to make a stand and I would support him in that,” added Kenny.
“He was right to make a stand for the good of the game as all players need to be protected, so have our preparations been affected? No, the only plans that has been affected are that a number of players will be unavailable due to injury and suspension,” he answered.
Gareth McGlynn and Eddie McCallion will missed the game due to one match bans while Derry’s central midfield pairing of Barry Molloy and Kevin Deery, remain in the treatment room, therefore the Derry boss will be forced into a number of changes.
“What we want is a passionate attendance, prepared to get behind our young players in particular,” he continued. “Friday night’s team will probably be one of the youngest teams to represent the club at this level with players such as Ruairi Harkin, James Henry, Ryan McBride, Stephen McLaughlin and David McDaid all come into the picture.
“Young players have stood up to the challenge already this season and I’ve no doubt they will stand up again. We’re playing the league champions and to think that a victory will move us to within one point of them provides us with a great incentive.
“They are the current champions and favourites for the title again, but we want our players to go out and express themselves as they have done so many times this season. We’ve netted a total of 41 goals to become the top scorers in the league and we’d like to extend that statistic on Friday night,” declared Kenny.
Looking to the enforced changes, Kenny may well have to redeploy Shane McEleney in a central midfield role, while Greencastle youngster, James Henry, could be rewarded for his impressive performance against UCD in the League Cup should the Derry boss opt to tinker with the midfield engine room.
“We worked so hard to get out of the First Division at the first attempt as we dearly wanted to be back playing against the top teams in the league. But we really need people to support our youngsters by getting on their feet and getting behind the team this weekend if we are to continue our progression as a group,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, Derry left-winger, James McClean, will be anxious to impress against Rovers, the Creggan Heights man to be watched by Reading manager, Brian McDermott and the club’s Director of Football, Nick Hammond.
And while Blackpool have already tabled an offer for the player, a number of other cross-Channel clubs have been in contact this week with the Reading management team having confirmed that they will travel to watch the player in action this evening.