DERRY CITY have just SIX players under contract following the completion of the 2011 season last Friday night.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And with Gerard Doherty, Danny Lafferty, Shane and Patrick McEleney, Ryan McBride and Stephen McLaughlin the only players on the books, Brandywell boss, Stephen Kenny, is expected to spend a large proportion of the close season in discussions with his out-of-contract personnel.
Given that Derry have surprised many commentators with a third place finish in the top flight which boasts Europa League qualification and, of course, the EA Sports League Cup which guarantees Setanta Sports Cup football next term, the Dubliner is the first to recognise that next year’s itinerary will be particularly busy.
“But that’s what we want,” declared Kenny last night. “That’s what it’s all about. The players have performed brilliantly and while we are still a bit disappointed that we lost out in the race for the title, it’s good to have a busy 2012 season to look forward to,” he added.
But while he refused to get involved in discussing next year’s programme until he has met the club’s Board of Directors to discuss his budget, Kenny took great satisfaction from the season just ended.
“I think we’ve had an exceptional season when one considers where we have come from. So many of our players were experiencing Premier Division football for the first time this season and they certainly stepped up to the mark.
“But we’ll not be patting each other on the back, it’s all about moving forward and concentrating on establishing a hard work ethic in order to compete with the top teams in the league next season.
“Cork City and Shelbourne will be returning to the top flight, so that’s another challenge as I expect those teams to be strong. Obviously Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers will remain prominent and while we may not have the resources they have, we must replace that with hard work and determination,” he maintained.
Having lost just one league game on home soil against Sligo - the opening game of the campaign - Derry certainly bounced back showing great character both at home and away. Having incurred just four defeats in 36 league games - the best in the league - the statistic of 14 draws does not augur well having joined the race for the title.
In addition, the club sold arguably it’s best player in James McClean to Sunderland for a fee of £350,000 during the latter stages of the campaign which certainly didn’t help the cause.
Kenny, however, opts to look to the future and the improvement required to keep the “Candy Stripes” among the elite in modern-day Irish football.
“Declan Devine and I will be travelling to clubs throughout the UK during the close season to study and increase our training techniques. I think it’s very important that we update ourselves on what other professional clubs are doing in that regard.
“The key has to be development, improvement and progression and in that regard we will require personal discipline from our players, which must be greater. Dedication and commitment levels must be increased if we are to compete at the top level as we strive to get better.
“I believe we must establish a culture within the club relating to hard work and we must have the desire to improve both individually and collectively.
“So many of our young players have gained great experience over the past year by playing at difficult venues in front of partisan attendances and that will stand them in good stead for 2012.”
Millwall in attendance
With two Millwall representatives watching Friday night’s game to take in the performance of Daniel Lafferty, Kenny insisted that he was attempting to build a team and not dismantle it.
“Millwall will have watched a defender who showed great technical ability during the game. He’s a defender who gets his headers on target and can be a superb attacking threat from left back as he’s shown this season.
“But while no club has made any approach for Daniel, we’re trying to build a team capable of challenging the top teams next season.”
While delighted with Lafferty’s performances throughout the campaign, Kenny was also pleased that striker, Eamon Zayed, would win the “Golden Boot” award having finished the season as the top striker in the Airtricity Premier Division with 22 goals to his credit.
“I’m delighted that Eamon finished the top scorer and while many have suggested that he could have added quite a few more given the chances that have been created, any player would be happy to finish the season with 22 strikes to his credit.
“There have been so many positives throughout a campaign which was tough but I think every player has improved over the season. We have improved as a team over the season and, hopefully, that will continue to be the case when we return for pre-season training.”
“I don’t know what size of a squad we can afford and, at this point in time, I don’t know exactly where we are or how the Board view the future, but last season we had a committed and dedicated group of players who performed above pre-season expectations.
“The group was first class and while the players improved as the season progresed, it’s my view that they can improve again given the experience gained last season,” he concluded.