DECLAN Devine has claimed that trophies may not be presented this weekend, but the Derry City boss did agree that tonight’s league fixtures could prove pivotal in what has developed into a competitive race for the Premier Division title.
While Derry host Sligo Rovers at the Brandywell, second placed Dundalk entertain Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park and St. Pat’s welcome Drogheda to Inchicore.
Therefore, a Derry victory over the ‘Bit O’Red’ - which is long overdue - could see the Lone Moor Road side actually move into second spot and, indeed, open a five points gap over Ian Baraclough’s men.
“There are absolutely no doubts in my mind that there will be many, many twists and turns in both the race for the title and in the Premier Division relegation battle,” insisted Devine last night.
“And while trophies will certainly not be presented this weekend, I do believe it could prove to be a pivotal period,” he said.
“At this stage of the season, you really would want to be defeating teams positioned around you.
“That would not only put vital points on the board, it would also breed the necessary confidence in players to push on.
“But we clearly owe Sligo one as I don’t think we’ve managed to beat them in our last 10 games.
“I felt we were very unfortunate to lose 1-0 against them at the Brandywell in our first game of the season, yet we finished above them after that series of matches.
“We also lost out when we travelled to the Showgrounds in May, yet we also finished ahead of them after the second series of games, so maybe it’s time to now put the record straight and end that poor run,” declared the Derry boss.
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To do so, Devine’s hand has been strengthened with news that quite a few bodies are returning to full fitness.
Defenders, Dean Jarvis and Thomas Crawley are back in full training sessions and ready to challenge for a starting place while Rory Patterson, David McDaid and Sean Houston all featured in the victory over Limerick last Sunday having entered the fray from the substitutes’ bench.
Stewart Greacen is nursing a swollen knee and while he has not been ruled out, the Scot faces a pre-match fitness test.
In fact, with the EA Sports Cup semi-final against Drogheda United scheduled for the Brandywell on Monday night, the Derry boss said his players were on a high.
“It’s what we’ve always wanted. Big matches between now and the end of the season, that’s what it’s all about.
“Had I been offered third place in the league table at this stage of the season; facing a home tie in the semi-final of the League Cup and in the next round of the FAI Cup, I would have taken that.
“However, this weekend is all about Sligo, we can start preparing for Drogheda on Saturday and, as I told the players, there could be a few disappointed faces when the Sligo team is announced.
“Senior players were on the bench against Limerick and the same situation could apply against Sligo. As a manager, that’s what I’ve always wanted.
“So I expect the team to change on a weekly basis and with our young players flying at the moment, I’m delighted with the progress.”
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Alan Hansen’s well worn comments in relation to winning nothing with kids, brought a smile to the face of Derry City boss, Declan Devine.
In fact, the Creggan man continues to heap praise on his young stars who continue to graduate into the first team.
And with names such as Barry McNamee, Shane and Patrick McEleney, Ryan McBride, David McDaid, Michael Rafter and, more recently, Michael Duffy all making an impact, Devine believes the future remains bright.
“Sligo will visit Brandywell on Friday and we’ve got a few young lads returning to fitness,” he said.
“Thomas Crawley and Dean Jarvis are back in training while Eoghan Osborne has settled in really well having joined us from Dundalk.
“He’s just 20 and despite lacking a little in match fitness, he has performed well at left-back having been thrown in at the deep end,” added Devine.
“Michael Duffy celebrated his 19th birthday last weekend and in this, his first year at senior level, he has answered every challenge thrown at him.
“Yes, he still has much to learn but having watched his development on the training ground, I’m convinced he will develop into another star at the Brandywell.”
But Devine was also quick to point to the valuable assistance of his senior players who he praised for the protection and advice they give to the younger recruits.
“Senior players such as Gerard Doherty, Stewart Greacen, Barry Molloy, Kevin Deery, Ruaidhri Higgins and Rory Patterson have played and continue to play a significant part in the development of their younger team-mates.
“The banter between all the players in the group is exceptional and as I’ve always said, this particular group is special.
“They continue to work towards the one end; they continue to support each other and the youngsters certainly listen to the advice they are given,” he claimed.