PADDY McCOURT admits Derry City took several transfer gambles last season, but one man the management had no hesitation in signing was midfielder, Ciaron Harkin.
City boss, Declan Devine believes the tenacious Creggan man ‘epitomises what it means to wear the Derry City jersey’ and has big hopes for last season’s vice captain ahead of the 2020 season.
“Last year we signed 17 players in January and a good few of them were gambles but one player which definitely wasn’t a gamble was Ciaron Harkin,” said McCourt.
High praise indeed, from the man tasked with recruiting players for Derry City, the newly unveiled Technical Director who is wholesome in his praise for the player who grew up travelling to away games with the Brandywell Pride Supporters Club.
Harkin was rewarded early in the 2019 season for his performances and attitude as he was offered a new three year contract, less than two months after sealing his move from Coleraine.
“Ciaron Harkin leaves everything out there on a Friday night,” said Devine. “He epitomises what it means to wear that jersey and what it means to play in front of the Brandywell and big houses.
“So we’re in a very fortunate position in that we have a lot of people here who care about this football club.”
And while the additions of midfield duo, Conor Clifford and Conor McCormack makes competition in the middle of the park interesting, Harkin welcomes the challenge.
“We had a good year last year and I enjoyed every bit of it,” said Harkin. “They believe in me and so I go again this year.
“The club has signed two midfielders and two great players but that’s what you need. You need competition and it’s only going to better me. I need to work hard in pre-season and make sure my place is there.
“It’s exciting seeing new players coming in,” he insisted. “As I was here last year you like to see the old players staying too so hopefully we can get as many players signed as possible and the best players we can get in as possible to help us achieve this season and meet our targets.”
Greg Sloggett has left for Dundalk, Barry McNamee’s City future is in doubt, Jack Malone is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot and Grant Gillespie has moved on. Therefore Devine needed to act quick to bolster his midfield options.
Clifford and McCormack bring plenty of talent and experience in that area and with Gerardo Bruna signed up, Harkin believes the triowill help improve his game.
“It’s good to have that competition. It only improves the other midfielders when you bring in a bit of competition.
“During the last few days in training you can see how good they are as players. Obviously it’s going to be exciting for Decky and everyone seeing them in training and seeing what they’ve signed. For me personally it’s good to have that competition.
“I know I need to be a step ahead, improve myself and I need to be ready to make sure I get picked every time for the starting XI.”
Derry were one of the fittest teams in the country last season and their stamina, workrate and desire allowed them to compete with the league’s top clubs.
Following the first week of pre-season training, Harkin expects the team to take those fitness levels up a notch ahead of the new campaign.
“We’re a few days into pre-season and it’s been tough but it’s only going to make us better,” he said.
“The last pre-season a lot of players ran a lot of miles and put a lot of hard work in and that’s the aim this year again and they’ll probably take that up another notch and be fitter again.
“There’s teams like Dundalk and Rovers who are step ahead money-wise and player-wise so we have to be fitter and work harder than those teams to make sure we get results.”
Last year Derry got their league season underway with a home match against newly promoted UCD but they face a sterner examination at Oriel Park on opening night against the champions.
“It doesn’t get much harder than that but it’s one of those games you look forward to during the season and work hard for.
“During pre-season we need to worker harder because we know that’s our first game. We’ll be looking to win every game and we’ll be aiming for three points against Dundalk.”
Harkin is hoping to get past the first round of European competition when the club enters the Europa League in the summer but what would he describe as a successful season?”
I’ve played in Europe twice before and I’ve never got through so hopefully the draw is nice to us and we get someone we can beat.
“Ultimately we want to do better than what we did last year. So failing to qualify for Europe this year would be considered a bad season.
“We need to make sure we qualify for Europe and then hopefully better what we did last year, making sure we finish higher than fourth and win as many games as possible.”