IF at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again - an old adage which the Derry City management team appear to have adopted.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And one man who may not be too happy with the Derry City attitude could well be former Brandywell boss, Stephen Kenny, who will definitely lose at least one of last year’s hitmen at his new cub, Dundalk.
Indeed, with Derry still hopeful that Mark Griffin will eventually make his way to Foyleside during the close season, fellow front-man from the 2012 campaign, Michael Rafter, will definitely be at the Brandywell next season, the lad from Co. Tipperary expected to put pen to paper on a one year deal later this afternoon.
Having played a significant role in keeping the “Lilywhites” in top flight football for the 2013 campaign after netting a brace of goals in the second leg of the promotion-relegation play-off against Waterford United, Rafter has now set his sights on pastures new and having received a call from Derry, he didn’t have to think twice.
Add in the fact that he opened the scoring in last April’s surprise 2-1 league victory over the “Candy Stripes” at the Lone Moor Road venue - his first goal for Dundalk - the 20-year-old displayed an immediate interest.
“Derry is such a big club and having played and scored in the Brandywell last season, I was delighted to be asked to join the club for the 2013 campaign,” he declared.
“They will be involved in all the major competitions next season, including the Europa League and the Setanta Cup and that’s what I want to experience,” he added.
Having netted nine goals during last season’s campaign, Rafter was impressed with Derry’s performances despite the club’s well documented injury crisis last term.
“To have won the FAI Cup and finish in 5th spot in the Premier Division was, for me, not a bad season. But when all Derry’s first choice players returned to action in time for the FAI Cup Final, I think it’s fair to suggest they would have challenged all the leading teams in the league.”
Rafter held a contract with Colchester United when he was 16-years-old but the striker has also had trials at Celtic, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Reading and Aston Villa and while opting to return home to join Waterford United last December, he signed for Dundalk in February of this year.
He has also represented the Republic of Ireland from under-15 to under-19 levels where he joined current Derry midfielder, Patrick McEleney.
But he continues to harbour hopes of returning to football in England or Scotland sooner rather than later.
“I think Derry City’s record, in not only preparing players to move to full-time clubs in England, but also putting players in the shop window, is widely respected in Ireland.
“Quite a few players are enjoying full-time careers at the top level in England and while I intend to do everything in my power to secure a regular place in the first team next season, I appreciate that it will be difficult as the club still has quite a few top quality players under contract.
“I think the team is strong all over the pitch, they have great quality players and I realise that I’ve been presented with a great challenge which is great for me.”
“I’m really looking forward to the experience of playing for Derry City and I can’t wait for the season to kick-off.
“I will be travelling up there on Friday (today) to sign a one year contract,” he confirmed.
Given the quality of the team, Rafter was the first to admit that he could not take anything for granted when attempting to break into a fully fit first team immediately.
“After last season’s experiences I have no doubt that Derry City will be keen to have competition for places all over the park.
“But I believe that competition for places will being every player on and keep every play on his toes as nothing is guaranteed. Therefore, as a striker, scoring goals on a regular basis is vital if I’m to secure a regular place in the front line.”
And when he was informed that his former front-line colleague at Oriel Park, Mark Griffin, had also been attracting attention at the Brandywell this season, Rafter agreed that Griffin was a “top player.”
He went on: “Derry had Rory Patterson, Mark Farren, Davy McDaid and Patrick McEleney as front-line players last season but they had goalscoring threats from all over the park so I’m fully aware that I will have to produce the goods if I’m to hold down a regular place, but I’m prepared for that.
“Obviously I’m looking forward to the challenge as I really do believe that Derry could figure prominently in the title race this season if they can keep their players fully fit.
“I don’t think too many have left the Brandywell, so it will be a battle to get in but, hopefully, everything will work out for me,” he concluded.
Devine still keen on McDaid, Griffin
Meanwhile, Brandywell boss, Declan Devine, refuses to rule out the possibility of signing both Mark Griffin and David McDaid.
Dundalk and Derry are believed to have struggled to agree a U.E.F.A. compensation fee for Griffin while McDaid, who has already been offered a new contract at the Brandywell, travelled to Fleetwood Town for a trial this week and is expected to return home this weekend.
“Davy has been very unlucky following the sacking of the previous manager at Fleetwood who was really keen to sign him. As far as I know, he is now speaking with the club’s Director of Football, but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I want him to remain with us for another season at least,” declared Devine.
“We haven’t ruled out signing Mark Griffin either and talks have been continuing between the clubs as I know the lad is keen to come to the Brandywell to further his career,” claimed the Derry boss.
“Mark Farren has left us so we’ve brought in another striker in Michael Rafter.
“David is not sure about his future at the moment and Griffin remains a possibity.
“Rafter is keen to establish himself and try to get back across the Channel and he holds the view that we can offer players like him a shop window as we have done that consistently over recent seasons. There’s no other club in the country doing what we have been doing and that makes my job trying to attract players so much easier,” he concluded.