CONOR McDERMOTT felt he wouldn’t get a ‘fair chance’ if he returned to Derry City and insists he’s now got his life back on track having completed a permanent switch to Cliftonville.
While the 22 year-old Culmore native holds no grudges with Derry boss, Declan Devine or the Brandywell club, he wasn’t convinced he would be a regular next season despite assurances from the City management.
The right-back met with Devine and Paddy McCourt for talks about extending his deal three weeks ago but the ex-Northern Ireland U21 international admits he had already made his decision to leave.
“I met Decky first and told him what I was thinking,” explained McDermott. “He tried to change my mind and told me he didn’t want me to go.
“Paddy McCourt was there too and told me not to rush into making a decision. They wanted me to wait until after Christmas but my mind was made up to be honest.
“I just wanted a fresh start. I would’ve given it another crack at Derry but I didn’t want to risk losing what I have at Cliftonville.”
Despite a vacancy in Derry’s right-back position, given Darren Cole’s long term absence through injury, McDermott wasn’t fully convinced he would get an extended run of games in the team next year.
Low in confidence, McDermott says he felt unwanted by Derry as he struggled to return to full fitness last season. And after four seasons and 91 appearances, he made the decision to cut ties with his hometown club, signing a permanent deal which will keep him at Solitude until the end of the 2022/23 season as the Reds negotiated a transfer fee with Derry City.
“For me, at Derry, it was never about ability,” he explained. “I just didn’t think I would have a fair chance to show that I can play.
“The fans would’ve seen that when I’m fit and given a bit of confidence to go and play that I can. But I didn’t feel that at Derry this year. I didn’t feel confident,” he stressed. “I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t wake up in the morning and look forward to going to training. I just went in, got the work done and went home.
“I’m not disrespecting Decky or the staff but I just didn’t feel like they really wanted me there at that time. When they sent me out on loan, that sort of confirmed that. I felt, had they given me four or five games in a row, then I could’ve got back to where I was.
“All I really needed was a run of games to get my fitness back but I didn’t get that chance. I had to go elsewhere and it’s worked a treat.
“I played about 90 games for Derry over the course of four seasons but this year I played about nine at the most. I had to make a decision, one which was best for me and my family and they definitely see a change in my life now compared to what I was like when I was at Derry six months ago.
“Things are definitely looking a lot better for me personally. I think it’s the best decision at this time. The main thing for me was to get back playing football again and I didn’t see that happening at Derry.”
“It’s a long deal and I’m happy with it. It gives me a bit of stability in my life.”
He certainly hasn't looked back since making his Reds debut against Derry City in a pre-season friendly at Brandywell back in June. He went on to score his first goal for the club in their 4-0 Europa League qualifier win against Barry Town at Solitude.
McDermott was also named Cliftonville Football Club’s Sean Graham Player of the Month for November in an online poll conducted among Reds fans after helping the team to four wins and three clean sheets during the period, as well as scoring the NIFWA Goal of the Month with a wonder goal from inside his own half in Cliftonville’s 4-0 victory over Warrenpoint Town at Solitude.
And the player has credited Cliftonville boss, Paddy McLaughlin for his current form and admits he's in a much happier place since switching to the Irish League.
"Paddy has put his arm around my shoulder, he's got me fit and I've been training with him double sessions every day," said McDermott.
"Training is intense and it's got the best out of me. He's got me fit and playing well, he's got me enjoying it and that's the main thing for me - happiness and to be fair to Paddy he's helped me get there.
"Paddy has been brilliant for me and I just wanted to repay the faith he showed in me by signing. Hopefully I can kick on now and help the club qualify for Europe again."
Playing part-time football in the Irish League and training in the evening allows McDermott the chance to further his education and he plans on enrolling in a course in the New Year in the hope of eventually finding work in the fitness industry when his playing days come to an end.
He is also a coach for the Ryan McBride Foundation and believes his life is now in a better place following his move to the Reds.
"It's good and I enjoy coaching the kids because it puts a smile back on your face and it's good seeing them progress every week and I enjoy that."
While no longer representing his hometown club, McDermott insists he will remain a supporter of the Foylesiders.
"I love the club, I've loved the club since I joined it when I was 16. I'll still be a fan and support the team most Friday nights. I'd love to see Derry do well. I have a lot of mates at the club and meet up with them on a regular basis. I hope they do we'll this year I hold no grudges against the club or anyone at the club.
"I could be back in Derry before the end of my career, you just never know. We'll see what the future brings."