DERRY CITY can go on to achieve ‘something special’ by winning the Premier Division this season, according to RTE pundit and Airtricty League XI manager, Damien Richardson.
SIMON COLLINS reports
Commenting ahead of this weekend’s Dublin Super Cup in the Aviva Stadium, the Dubliner was wholesome in his praise of the attitude and commitment shown by the 11 Derry City players involved in his League of Ireland Select.
Preparations for tomorrow’s opening fixture against Manchester City threatened to be overshadowed by rumblings of discontent among the Airtricity panel due to a reported pay row and inadequate changing room facilities, but Richardson insists those problems have not distracted from the job at hand.
And the former Cork City and Shamrock Rovers boss offered a glowing endorsement on the behaviour of the Derry City contingent who he insists will form the nucleus of his team during the course of the tournament.
Richardson claims the mentality of ‘possession football’, instilled by ‘Candy Stripes’ boss Stephen Kenny and their commitment and desire could see the Brandywell outfit create history and become the first Irish team to win promotion from the First Division and claim the Premier Division title in successive seasons.
“I have to admit that at the beginning of the season I thought it would be a bridge too far for Derry to be competing for the league title,” admitted Richardson. “I thought if they could manage to get one of the European places it would be an amazing achievement
“However, with good planning, good motivation and organisation from Stephen Kenny, a very committed group of talented footballers, the great Derry City fans and a high sense of expectation that’s always around the city, they have certainly surprised me and most people.
“They are now genuine title contenders, especially when one bears in mind that Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers and St Pat’s are still involved in European football and it could be a case of Derry taking advantage of their distraction in Europe by coming in under the radar.
“The most important part of the season is coming up and I think if Stephen and his players can keep their heads and concentration levels, they have a genuine chance of doing something very special this season. Everyone at the club deserves great commendation for that.
“It’s very important to recognise that when Derry went down the players stayed with the club, adapted to life in the First Division and got promotion.
“And when they moved back up to the Premier they quickly adapted again to a different style and different tempo and that should not go unrecognised as it takes a strong mentality to be able to shift from First Division levels to a successful level in the Premier.
“I think it would be a magnificent achievement to win the First Division and then go onto win the Premier Division the following season, I think that would be very, very special.”
Each of the 11 Derry City players have been promised some involvement during the course of the two-day tournament and Richardson is confident they can ‘hold their own’ against the might of Man City and Celtic.
“I won’t play all the Derry players in the one game but I’ll certainly play five or six in the first game and then the remainder in the second game,” said the Airtricity XI boss.
“They’ve been very committed, very conscientious and they work with great diligence. The more we’re working with the group the more we can see that understanding that the Derry players provide will be a very important part of the structure for the weekend.
“From a Derry City point of view, they’ve really settled in, there’s a good atmosphere and on the training ground they are a delight to work with because they understand how to play football the right way.
“The club and the manager have a great ethos of the passing game,” he continued. “We know we’ll have to defend for long periods on Saturday and Sunday but we also want to retain the football as often as we possibly can and having that base of Derry players whose whole attitude is about passing the ball, I think will be very important to us in both games.
“The idea is to play a team on Saturday and a different team on Sunday to spread the load, so I’m just trying to decide whether the team on Saturday against Manchester City will be based on Derry players or whether we make it the team on Sunday.”
Following Roberto Mancini’s no-nonsense approach to striker Mario Balotelli’s showboating during a pre-season friendly against LA Galaxy this week, Richardson is expecting a very competitive encounter.
“Manchester City are now at that elite level of European football and Inter Milan are the same - they won the Champions League the season before last.
“And Celtic have an amazing tradition as a football club and we’re stepping out against some highly talented individuals and some terrific teams. We will have to play to our full potential, individually and collectively and then perhaps a little bit more to give ourselves a chance in either game.
“That sense of anticipation is where we’re at at the minute as a group, it’s palpable.”
“The fact that Man City will be playing Manchester United the following weekend in the Community Shield I think will underline the importance of this weekend to Roberto Mancini.
“He demonstrated with Ballotelli that he is not going to put up with any messing, he wants to get serious about the games and the players will understand that,” he added.