FAI Cup holders, Derry City, host the Premier Division champions tonight and while the RTE cameras may not view it that way, the game at the Brandywell is the opening “match of the day” in the 2013 Airtricity League.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And while both clubs have suspension and injury worries, both will be acutely aware of the importance of getting the new season off to a winning start.
Pre-season has been completed and with both sides having competed in the Setanta Cup on Monday night, hopes are high and targets have been set.
However, that’s not the case as far as Brandywell boss, Declan Devine, is concerned.
“Last year we set our sights on this and on that, but while I know it’s a well worn cliche, we will focus totally on the next game and take it one game at a time,” he said.
“It’s important that we try to get wins under our belts as soon as possible and we certainly hope to turn some of the draws we recorded last season into victories this time around.”
He refused to predict that Derry would finish in the top four, suggesting that the “Candy Stripes” would be involved in a highly competitive league in which teams would continue to take points off one another.
“I’m not going to predict that we will win the league or finish in the top three. We are competing in what I expect to be a very difficult league and we will assess the issue come the end of the first series of matches,” declared Devine.
Having finished a yawning 22 points behind tonight’s opponents in the league last season, the Derry boss is anxious to close that gap significantly this term.
“In order to do that, we must improve our home form and that means testing ourselves against the best team in the country on Friday night.
“We must try to make the Brandywell a very difficult place for opposing teams to play in. We have great potential in the squad and if we can play to the best of our ability, then there’s no reason why we cannot win the majority of the games we play, particularly at home,” he claimed.
Looking forward to a large attendance, Devine must plan without his suspended skipper, Kevin Deery and left-back, Dermot McCaffrey. Sean Houston (ankle) and Paddy Kavanagh (hamstring) are also out while Stewart Greacen faces a pre-match test on a leg injury sustained against Drogheda.
However, on a positive note, midfield general, Barry Molloy, returns to action having been suspended for Monday’s Setanta Cup game and Devine welcomed that fact.
“Barry is one of the best players in the country. He gives us a massive presence in midfield. Barry gives us great leadership and a physical presence in the centre of the park where Sligo are strong,” noted Devine.
“Barry McNamee can play anywhere across the midfield four while Patrick McEleney had a good game on Monday and he will benefit getting another 90 minutes. Obviously, I would have liked a full squad to be available, but I’m happy enough with what we have.”
With the Setanta Sports Cup return on Monday night in Drogheda, Devine refused to field any questions on that game until the completion of Friday night’s fixture.
“It will be tough in Drogheda but I’m confident we can give a good account of ourselves. However, we must wait until after the Sligo game before commenting on Drogheda,” he concluded.
Fantastic Opening Match
Meanwhile, Sligo Rovers boss, Ian Baraclough also has suspension and injury problems with Danny Ventre suspended and both Danny North (knee) and Aaron Green (ankle) also ruled out of what he described as a “fantastic opening game.”
He said: “We’re now ready for the season and while we do have a few problems, we have options in the squad.
“I saw for myself last season that every game in Derry is hard fought. It’s like an annual season-opener if you like between the league and cup winners but there is also a local rivalry and a hope for both sides to build on what was achieved last season.
“It’s our closest game in the division and we’ll be backed to the hilt by a large travelling support so it should be a good atmosphere and a fantastic match to open the campaign.”
Tickets for tonight’s game may be purchased from any of the local outlets - Jobby’s Sports Shop, Myra’s, Breslin’s Strand Road, P.J.’s, William Street, Harkin’s, Lecky Road, Centra Trench Road and Buncrana Road, Links Service Station, Creggan Road, Terrace Stores, bottom Bligh’s Lane, Glencaw Stores, Galliagh, Derry City Social Club, Day 2 Stores, Creggan Street.
Derry City’s league game against Drogheda, scheduled for Monday, March 18th will now kick-off on Tuesday evening, March 19th at 7.45 p.m. and the away trip to Cork City will be staged on Sunday, March 24th with an afternoon kick-off.