CONSIDERED one of Derry City’s most influential performers this season, Stewart Greacen refuses to rule out a return to Brandywell for the 2012 campaign.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
The robust central defender said he had “thoroughly enjoyed” one of the best seasons in his career and he harboured hopes of returning for next season’s campaign.
Greacen limped off Richmond Park in the final minute of last Friday night’s game against St. Pat’s having pulled a hamstring and is rated extremely doubtful for Friday night’s final game against Pat Fenlon’s Bohemians.
Facing a pre-match fitness test, the 29-year-old opted to play through the pain barrier in that game having sustained a shoulder injury against Galway the previous week, but he claimed the 1-1 result made his efforts worthwhile.
“We really didn’t want to see our hopes of playing in Europe next season hanging on defeating Bohemians in the final match,” he said. “That’s pressure, so having taken a point against St. Pat’s - and we were lucky to get it - we’re guaranteed qualification and that was always the objective.”
Regarded as a pivotal player in Derry’s success this season, Greacen has enjoyed his first campaign in the League of Ireland, but did he believe he had now played his final game for the “Candy Stripes?”
“Hopefully not,” he answered. “But, obviously, much will depend on the manager and the Board of Directors. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first season in the League of Ireland and I would go as far to suggest that it’s been one of the most enjoyable in my career.
“I’m absolutely delighted that I decided to come over here to give it a go. I signed a one year deal and while I will be a free agent after our final game on Friday night, I can’t sign for any other team until next January when the Transfer Window opens, so I certainly wouldn’t rule out a return to Derry City,” he declared.
“I think Stephen (Kenny) will be spending the next few weeks talking to players he wishes to keep at the Brandywell for next year. We’ve had an informal chat about the prospect of me returning and if I’m offered a contract, I will be going into those discussions with an open mind.
“Like most of the players out of contract, I’ll be waiting to see what develops and then investigate any options I may have when I return home.”
One of Kenny’s final signings before the start of the 2011 campaign, Greacen has not only proved a colossus in the heart of the City defence, but his genuine interest and involvement in assisting the development of the young players around him has been significant.
The Scot rates the standard of the league particularly high, suggesting that the top four clubs in the Premier Division would compete favourably for the First Division title in Scotland.
“Playing against the top clubs in the Premier Division here is very competitive and it’s of a high standard. It’s my view that the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Sligo, Derry and St. Pat’s would all compete favourably for the First Division title in Scotland. There may be so-called lesser teams in the Premier Division in Ireland, but in the Scottish First Division there’s very little between the 10 teams involved.”
On his involvement with Derry’s youngsters this year, Greacen also enjoyed the experience.
“Joining a new team always presents challenges but I think I settled in very quickly at the Brandywell. I found myself involved in a great dressing room with a great mixture of youth and experience and I really enjoyed the part I was able to play in that situation.
“Derry have some unbelievable young players. Shane McEleney and Ryan McBride both have great potential to play in what I consider the crucial position of centre-half. I think they’ve both improved throughout the campaign and they will improve again next season.
“It’s been great to watch them develop their talents, but the young players at Derry - in all positions - are surrounded by experienced players who are all keen to help them out which is a great plus at any football club. Make no mistake about it, some of the young players are special and the transfer of James McClean to Sunderland didn’t surprise me at all,” he continued.
“It was a fantastic move for him and I was thrilled to see him progress to the top level. James had a great attitude and a great work ethic and it was those very qualities which saw him progress to the Premiership.
“All the hype over recent weeks has been about Danny Lafferty who, in my view, has been different class this season. I believe he’s ready to return across the Channel and provided he keeps doing what he is doing, I don’t see any problem in Danny getting a top club.”
Greacen suggested that Derry’s success had come down to “an experienced spine” through the team. “Gerard Doherty, maybe myself, Barry Molloy, Kevin Deery, Ruaidhri Higgins and Eamon Zayed, make up an experienced spine and I think the young lads benefited and improved when playing off that spine.
“Players such as Patrick and Shane McEleney, Ryan McBride and Stephen McLaughlin all possess great potential and I hope that Derry City can keep the best part of that group together for next year, especially with European football involved, that’s really something to look forward to.”
But he hoped to be back. “I’ve enjoyed the experience, I really like everything about the football club and, who knows what may lie in store, if I’m offered a new contract then it’s certainly something I would seriously consider,” concluded the affable Scot.