Champions guard of honour a tough pill to swallow for Derry City's Mark Connolly

MARK Connolly admits Derry City players will use the memory of clapping Shamrock Rovers out onto the Tallaght pitch on Sunday as motivation to overhaul the champions next season.

Having watched their league title bid implode after frustrating back-to-back draws against Shelbourne and Sligo Rovers last week, Derry players honoured the newly crowned champions by forming a humbling guard of honour in the tunnel ahead of kick-off.

It was a mark of respect for the Dubliners who moved 10 points clear of Derry after the 1-0 win but it was a moment which didn't sit well with Connolly who insists the Candy Stripes must ensure it's them who are applauded onto the pitch at the end of next season.

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"We don't want to be the ones who are standing clapping," insisted the City defender. "We all, as players, need to paint that moment in our heads and make sure that it's us next season.

"I didn’t enjoy standing there clapping them out," admits the Clones native. "It's a bit of respect because they won the league and deserved to win the league because they got the most points."

Connolly, who joined midseason from Dundee United after a six months loan spell with Dundalk, doesn't believe Derry are too far off Rovers.

He insists Derry's plans are not to simply bridge the gap between themselves and the champions but to surpass the Hoops next year.

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"There's a confidence there but we don't want to be standing saying, 'we're getting closer', we want to make sure (the gap) it's closed and then we're pushing on and going ahead of them.

"I've played against them with two teams this year, with Dundalk and also with Derry and listen, they're a good team but on our day we can beat anyone.

"We just need to make sure we finish the season off as best we can and next season well worry about that when it comes.”

A point against his former team Dundalk at Brandywell on Sunday will rubber stamp second spot but even a defeat would suffice given Derry’s superior goal difference.

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Connolly knows they must lift their game, however, with two huge games remaining in the season.

"We have a big week coming up with Dundalk and we need to make sure we're at it. The cup final is two weeks away but Dundalk is first and everything we didn't do well on Sunday we need to work on that in training.”

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