DECLAN Devine is acutely aware that there’s no such thing as a “friendly game” when Derry City play against Donegal neighbours, Finn Harps.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And as both clubs lock horns in Ballybofey this Sunday (2.30 p.m. kick-off), it goes without saying that the game will have an edge to it and a passionate fixture is anticipated.
For Derry, the Harps’ fixture is now particularly interesting given that the “Candy Stripes” have lost their opening pre-season games against Ballinamallard (4-2) and the N. Ireland UEFA Regions Cup Squad (2-1).
“Obviously we’re disappointed at not winning matches we play in, but the results from pre-season games have never been important. Those games are all about getting players that vital game-time as they attempt to reach that vital level of fitness before the start of any season,” claimed Devine.
Having clearly finished second best to the N. Ireland Regions Cup squad, made up of players from the Irish League’s Championship 1 and 2 Divisions, at the Brandywell on Wednesday night, the Brandywell boss opted to focus on the positives, the defeat still a worthwhile exercise.
“Quite a few players got valuable game-time under their belts and given what we’ve watched in both games, there is certainly room for improvement,” noted Devine.
“We haven’t done very much in terms of shaping the team just yet, but if we had managed to get a few more games in despite the terrible weather, I think we would have looked much better balanced,” he insisted.
Suggesting that Derry looked “very open on occasions,” Devine said his players paid the price for that ineptitude but refused to get carried away given the nature of the early fixtures.
“I felt we actually started the game very well with Michael Rafter netting his second goal in two games after just three minutes, it was a superb finish after a fluent move.
“But I would agree that we were poor defensively for the two goals we conceded and that’s something we must continue to work at on the training ground. To be fair, we haven’t really concentrated too much on defensive work at this stage, but the positives are that our players got valuable game-time and we’ve not got a look at the new lads who have joined us for the new season.
“Naturally, we had hoped to win both matches, but I’m not overly concerned with the results and we will not be reading too much into the defeats.”
He agreed, however, that the short trip to Finn Park this weekend would take on added significance.
“I’ve been about the Brandywell long enough to understand that games against Finn Harps - be they friendlies or league and cup games - are also competitive fixtures. There always seems to be an edge about them,” declared Devine.
“I’ve never witnessed a ‘friendly game’ against Finn Harps. Every match we play against them in passionate, from both sets of players. The tackles fly in and as they are enjoying a very good pre-season run having held Sligo to a draw last weekend, they certainly don’t want to lose their winning run.
“Peter Hutton appears to have assembled quality and talent within his squad for the new season, therefore, Sunday’s game will be far from easy. Indeed, it will be difficult for us so we must be prepared to step up another notch and meet the challenge head on,” continued Devine.
“I don’t expect the Finn Park pitch to be in pristine condition - very few pitches are at this stage of the year - so we’ve got to be prepared to adjust our normal play and, at times, be prepared to dig in when it matters.
“I expect similar situations to develop at the start of the new season. The free flowing football can come into play as the surfaces improve, but we must still learn to dig in and dig out a result now and again.
“There will be times when we must move the ball foward quickly and back that up with power and strength going forward and team must be prepared to adjust to the conditions as it can be very difficult to pay a passing game on a bumpy pitch.”
Having deployed a 4-4-2 formation on Wednesday night, Devine was anxious to explore every available formation, insisting that his players must be capable of adjusting when required.”
Season Ticket Deadline
Regular Derry City season ticket holders have until next week to renew their tickets for the 2013 season or they will lose their regular seats at the Brandywell.
The Derry City Office will be open from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. from Monday to Friday for season ticket sales. Telephone: 02871-373111 for further details.
Meanwhile, Derry City chairman, Mr. Philip O’Doherty, has won the first prize of £1,000 in the club’s Monthly Draw for January. Philip’s ticket, No. 603 was drawn out of the hat.