WITH Derry City facing two vital matches on Monday and Friday of next week, tonight’s short trip to the Riverside Stadium will be viewed as a window of opportunity for the Brandywell club’s youngsters. (Kick-off: 7.30 p.m.)
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And with the “Candy Stripes” having picked up a number of injuries following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat of Finn Harps in Ballybofey, some of the youngsters in the Brandywell club’s first team panel will be presented with an opportunity to impress.
Indeed, Institute boss, Paul Kee, will plan for the game with his young players very much to the forefront of his mind, so those attending the Riverside Stadium this evening can expect no shortage of commitment and enthusiasm from both sides.
Having now registered a win in one of their three pre-season fixtures, it’s clear that Derry are anxious to build on their performance against Harps and assistant boss and former Institute manager, Paul Hegarty, is keen to give his side’s young players a run-out.
“We faced Harps without the likes of Barry Molloy, Michael Rafter and Patrick McEleney, while Shaun Houston, Thomas Crawley and Ruaidhri Higgins all picked up minor knocks and are considered unlikely to start the game,” confirmed Hegarty.
“So the younger lads may well get an opportunity to impress. We used all our substitutes in the Harps game and I would imagine quite a few of them would probably start against ‘Stute depending on the injury situation,” he added.
Hegarty, however, insisted that any player carrying even a minor knock would not be risked in tonight’s game as two competitive matches in five games next week - against Drogheda United in the Setanta Cup on Monday followed by Sligo Rovers in the opening league game on Friday night - would take its toll.
But with both those games at the Brandywell, the “Candy Stripes” will be anxious to record back-to-back victories and get the new campaign off to a positive start.
Happy to have another friendly fixture before then, Hegarty held the view that the Billy Kee Memorial Cup Final would help sharpen up some of the senior players and, of course, gives the first team squad’s younger players more valuable game time.
“I felt Ryan Curran played very well at Finn Park when he came on midway through the second half, He hit the post with a shot before heading home our second goal and that will have given him confidence,” claimed Hegarty.
“He’s a teenager who continues to do well in training and he is challenging for a place in the squad. We would also have liked to have another teenager, Michael Duffy, playing against Institute but he has a bit of a knee problem and I don’t think he will be involved,” conceded the assistant manager.
“Barry McNamee, who played a match for Noel King’s Republic of Ireland Under-21 home based players, came on as a sub against Harps and I think he would well find himself involved tonight. His younger brother, Tony, is another who could make an appearance having also come on as a sub on Sunday.”
Agreeing that the game was all about gaining match fitness, Hegarty was hopeful that quite a few members of the squad would get a runout and he expected an open game.
“It really is all about match fitness and sharpness at this stage of the season and while we were very happy with the performance in Ballybofey on Sunday, our only disappointment was conceding a needless late goal in the 92nd minute.
“We actually missed a good chances a minute before the goal and when the ball was switched back up the pitch, they got a free-kick and they scored with a header from it. Our defence had clearly switched off, we felt the match was over and we were punished. Let’s hope it will be a lesson,” continued Hegarty.
“So we’d like to improve on Sunday’s performance and gain confidence before we face two massive matches next week against Drogheda United and Sligo Rovers, they are big, big early season games and we certainly want to get off to a winning start at home.”
Delighted with the squad which has been assembled for the 2013 campaign, Hegarty was keeping his fingers crossed that Derry would not face the injury crisis which had dogged Derry last season.
“I think we have assembled a decent group of players. We have experience, quality and talent in the group and, hopefully, if we can steer clear of injuries we will give a good account of ourselves.
“We played so good stuff against Finn Harps and on another day we would have won by much more, but it’s all about getting fittness and sharpness and giving the new players plenty of time to bed in,” concluded Hegarty.
Big Night for Kee Family
Meanwhile, for ‘Stute boss, Paul Kee and his family, tonight’s game to be played in memory of his late father, Billy, has always been a special occasion.
Commenting first on the match, Kee also hoped to give his young players an opportunity to express themselves.
“We will give our younger players a game on Tuesday and will also try and give games to a couple of players coming back from injuries,” he said.
“We have some talented young players at the club. Maybe they’re a bit too young at the minute, but there’s good ability there and this game will give them an incentive to play in a decent game.
“The Derry City match will give us the opportunity to see if they have the physical impact to play in the Championship if called upon.”
Referring to the occasion, Kee said it would be a “big night” for his family circle.
“It’s always a big night for my family and myself. My dad actually played for Derry City during the 1970’s. A lot of people don’t know that and, obviously, given his relationship with Institute, it’s a big day for the family, my brothers and sisters and, more importantly, my mum.
“It’s that time of the year that we can remember my dad because he was a big influence on all of our lives. So we are all looking forward to the game.
“It’s certainly better than training and I’m sure the players will enjoy the occasion. Hopefully, there will be a few Derry City supporters in Drumahoe as well so, hopefully, we can give a good account of ourselves on the night,” he concluded.