Burnfoot lad Thomas McMonagle is one of the lucky ones.
When Declan Devine was unveiled as the new manager of Derry City Football Club in City’s social club off Crawford Square earlier this month, the word was that if a player is good enough then he will get his chance to shine.
Devine has made it no secret that he intends to give some of the younger players who have been on the fringes of the the senior team their opportunity to prove to him that they can compete at the top level of League of Ireland football next season. Thomas looks set to shine.
Thomas, 21, signed his first professional contract with the Candy Stripes just after Christmas. His deal is for one season and the former Aileach FC player is under no illusions of what he will have to do to earn a contract extension at the end of the 2012 campaign.
“All I have ever wanted to do is play football professionally and to be given the chance to play football for Derry City is a dream come true.”
Thomas first joined Derry City FC when he was 17 years-old. Up until that point he had played all of his football for Aileach FC near Burt but when he took part in a game for the Inishowen team he was spotted by Derry youth coach John Quigg.
“I think I played left back that day,” recalls Thomas. “John Quigg asked me up to training in Derry so off I went and the rest is history, as they say.
“As soon as I met with the other coaches at the club they decided that because of my height (6’ 2’’) they wanted to see how I would get on playing as a central defender - that’s where I have been playing for Derry ever since.”
Thomas’ father, Bernard McMonagle ,used to play for Coshquin when he was younger so growing up in a house devoted to football is something that the young Thomas is used to.
When he was younger Thomas attended St. Mura’s National School in Tooban before moving on to study at Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana.
Thomas’ parents are Bernard and Anne-Marie and he has two younger brothers, Darren and Shane, and one younger sister, Aoife.
“I am the eldest, so I suppose you could say that I am leading by example,” he jokes.
Thomas explains that one of the main reasons he agreed to join Derry City was because of the club focus on promoting youth football.
“I had heard so many good stories about how youth football was managed in Derry so when John Quigg asked me to come along I jumped at the chance.
“The club have an amazing approach when it comes to young players.
“When Stephen Kenny was manager he used to meet with us on a regular basis to find out how we were getting on. He was always interested in finding out what we were doing and how we were progressing.
“Stephen was a fantastic man manager. I must have done something right last season because he suggested to me at the end of the campaign that I might be drafted into the senior team for 2012 and here I am now playing for Derry.
“I am so excited about the forthcoming season. Declan Devine is a brilliant manager and when he said that he was serious about improving our fitness, he meant it.
“The last few weeks of pre-season training have been the toughest training I have ever had to do but I am definitely starting to feel the benefits of it.”
Making the trip from Burnfoot to the Brandywell is a journey that Thomas is more than familiar with.
When he was younger he attended many of Derry games but admitted that he had a bit of a penchant for bitter rivals Finn Harps.
“I used to go to all of the big games at the Brandywell but I also went to a few Finn Harps ones too - don’t tell anyone!” he laughs.
Thomas is good friends with Donegal and 2011 Ulster Championship winning player Ryan Bradley. He said that he’s hoping a repeat of last season’s Anglo Celt trophy final between Derry and Donegal can be avoided.
“I used to play GAA for Burt GAC - I played in midfield. Myself and Ryan are good friends. He did really well with Donegal last year but I think I’d get a bit of stick from all of the Derry lads if Donegal were to meet them in the final this year. I don’t think it can happen anyway because if Donegal beat Cavan in the opening round they play Derry.”
Derry goalkeeper Gerard Doherty and central midfielder Barry Molloy are the two players that Thomas cites as having the biggest influence on his career to date.
“Gerard and Barry have been great. They are great players so when they talk I listen. It’s great playing alongside players like them because they are always willing to offer advice and guidance. I have learned so much from them and long may it continue.”
Thomas made his Derry City debut when he replaced the injured Emmett Friars in defence during Derry’s EA Sports Cup clash with Shamrock Rovers at the Brandywell in 2010. And now he’s made his first appearance for the Candy Stripes he says he will not be satisfied until he tastes it again.
“Stephen Kenny gave me a few games in the cup but coming on against Shamrock Rovers was daunting to say the least. I was worried about making a mistake. Although we lost the match 2-1 I think I did ok - I was happy with my performance.”
When asked for his career highlight to date Thomas smiled and recalled captaining the Derry City ‘A’ Championship team to victory over UCD in September last year.
“It was one of the best nights ever,” says Thomas. “We went 3-0 up but then UCD pulled two back - it was nerve-wracking to say the least. It was a proud moment lifting the trophy and it’s something that I hope to experience again in my career.”
Thomas is a passionate Republic of Ireland and Arsenal supporter. His favourite player is Thierry Henry.
He refuses to set himself unrealistic goals for the 2012 season and described the forthcoming campaign as a long job interview.
“I have been given a one year deal so it’s up to me to convince Declan Devine and Paul Hegarty that I have what it takes to compete against the top teams in Ireland.
“I am also excited that this might be the year that I get the chance to make my full debut at the Brandywell.
“It would not only be a dream come true to play in front of the Derry City fans but it would also be an honour and a privilege.
“I enjoy playing in the centre of defence and if I get my chance this season I intend to grab it with both hands.
“I’d say the strongest part of my game is passing - I like to bring the ball out of defence and pass it to the midfielders - so hopefully I can do it well this season.
“I don’t want to give myself unrealistic goals for 2012. I am under no illusions what is expected of me. I have spoken with Declan [Devine] and he has told me what he wants me to do. I hope to repay the confidence he has put in me by giving me the contract - I am very excited.
“I am looking forward to being part of the team. There’s a great bunch of players at the club so the craic should be good too. I am also looking forward to working with Declan Devine and Paul Hegarty - I like the way the club has stayed local so 2012 will be an exciting year.”