Bohemians winger Stephen Mallon can't wait to make Brandywell return
THE LAST time Derry City fans attended the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium Stephen Mallon scored a stunning individual goal which set the home side on their way to an impressive 2-0 victory over Bohemians.
That was February 28th 2020 but it’s a memory the 22 year-old Poleglass native will never forget as he marked his home debut with his first senior strike!
Fast forward almost 16 long months and much has changed as a limited number of supporters prepare for a most welcome return to the Southend Park stand tonight to cheer on new manager Ruaidhri Higgins’ troops and with Mallon wearing the colours of the visitors who are once again the opposition.
Former Sheffield United Academy winger Mallon left Brandywell after a difficult season last year and was quickly snapped up by Bohs boss Keith Long who would’ve been suitably impressed by his match-winning display last February before Covid forced a temporary halt to the league.
Since signing with the Phibsborough outfit, Mallon, described by Long as a ‘throwback winger’, has been sidelined after surgery on a metatarsal injury and faced four difficult months on the sidelines. He made his Bohs debut and first appearance of the season in the final 10 minutes of the Dubliners’ routine 3-0 win over Waterford before the mid-season break.
And while tonight’s trip to his former club is likely to come too soon to be in contention for his full debut, he’s hoping he can play some part in the game and rekindle those special memories from when he last played in front of the Brandywell support.
“The memories from that game, and all the other games for Derry, will always stick with me,” said Mallon. “I played in front of crowds in Australia but it was the first time playing in front of a crowd where it actually meant a lot to them and scoring that goal you could see the joy it brought to the fans.
“I’ve only got good memories of Derry and everybody at the club I value highly as they welcomed me in and respected me. I loved my time there but I’m buzzing to get back to the Brandywell. Getting the fans back is brilliant,” he added. “It’s over a year now since we’ve had fans in so they are exciting times for the whole league. I know it’s not a full stadium but it’s better than what we’ve been dealing with this past year. It will be good to get a bit of noise in the stadium and see fans there again.”
Mallon might be on the wrong end of the chants from the home support this time around but he’s dealt with much worse over the past few months as he’s battled back to full fitness.
Despite that lonely road to recovery, he’s concentrated on the positives from a character-building period in the treatment room and can’t wait to get back into the thick of the action in an exciting young Bohs team which is beginning to gather momentum after a difficult start.
“I’ve only played 10 or 15 minutes against Waterford so while I would love to start the game and am available, the team is coming off two great wins so whatever the gaffer goes with I will obviously respect his decision but, of course, I’d love to feature in the game. I’m certainly looking forward to it.”
Mallon has used the time on the sidelines wisely, bulking up in the gym under the guidance of the Gypsies’ Strength and Conditioning coach, an improvement he thinks will help his game. The Waterford game was his first since Derry’s FAI Cup defeat to Sligo Rovers in the Showgrounds six months ago and he’s returned hungrier than ever.
“I feel good,” he added. “Obviously it (injury) happened just before the season started so it wasn’t great timing but these things happen. I’ve been working hard with the physio and strength and conditioning coach and I feel grand. It was tough coming on against Waterford as it was my first game since I played for Derry against Sligo. That’s maybe six months so it was always going to be tough. It was good to come on and get my debut and be back out there.
“It was tough being out because I wanted to come in and impress with a new club, new staff and new teammates. When the injury happens, the first few days you’re not feeling great but you have to take the positives. It was an opportunity for me to get stronger, upper body wise, and work on things that I didn’t have as much time to do when I’m flat out training. It was a chance for me to reflect. Everything is 100 miles per hour at that period. It was tough enough but there are always positives and there have been positives over the last four or five months.
“It also makes you that little bit hungrier and eager to get back on the pitch and play again.”
The Belfast man is ‘excited’ at the challenge of breaking into the Bohs starting XI over the next few weeks and he’s got plenty to look forward to with 22 league games, the FAI Cup and UEFA Europa Conference qualifiers to come.
“It’s an exciting time. We’re not there yet but we’re approaching the business end of the season with 22 league games to go, Europe, the FAI Cup and it’s exciting for me to be coming back in for this period of games.”
Those fixtures begin with tonight’s trip to Foyleside as Mallon looks to renew acquaintances with his former teammates and he’s anticipating a tough test.
“It’s going to be a tough game. They’ve beaten us already this season so we know what sort of a challenge it will be and we know we’ve got to be at our best to get anything from the game. Derry were similar to us and didn’t get off to a great start to the season. Since Ruaihdri (Higgins) has come in the results have improved massively. It’s a game I look forward to.
“They are just three points behind us and with Derry beating us before this season, we’ll have to be at our best to get anything from the game. I know all the lads are looking forward to it and I’m sure the Derry lads will be too. Coming back in after the week off you’ve got that feel for it and want to get going again. So everybody will be up for it and it should be a really good game of football.”