CONOR McDermott is hoping he still has a bright future at Derry City and believes his loan spell at Cliftonville has given him a new lease of life.
The Northern Ireland U21 international will be on familiar ground as he makes his debut for the Irish League side against his hometown club in tonight’s friendly at Brandywell Stadium. (K.o. 7p.m.)
He admits it will be ‘a weird feeling’ lining up against the Candy Stripes for the first time but he’s looking forward to rekindling his career under Reds’ boss, Paddy McLaughlin.
McDermott, who has 91 appearances for Derry under his belt, will return to Foyleside next January and he’s hoping he will have done enough during his loan spell to impress Declan Devine.
“I have another year left when I come back in January,” he explained. “At the end of the day I want to be a Derry City player. I’m from Derry and grew up supporting the club.
“If I can use this loan spell as a stepping stone you never know what can happen in football.
“All my focus is on doing well for Cliftonville at the minute and then we’ll see what happens in January, whether Derry want to send me on loan again or whether they want to keep me. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I want to be a Derry player so we’ll see where it takes me.”
He felt a six month loan spell in the Irish League was the change he needed to kick-start his career which appeared to have stagnated this season.
“Decky (Devine) has been around the game a long time and can see things more clearly than I can. Getting games is the main thing and a change could be the best thing that could happen to me.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s given me a new lease of life now more than anything, rather than getting down in the dumps about things.”
And he’s looking forward to tonight’s test against a strong Derry City side which is expected to include new signing, Darren McCauley and trialist, Marc Ortner, an underage Austrian international.
“We have trained the last couple of weeks and we’re looking forward to our first pre-season game against Derry.
“That will be massive for boys getting their first game under their belts. And I need game-time.
“I haven’t played much for Derry this season. So I can’t wait to get back at it.
“It will definitely be a weird feeling but Cliftonville is my team now for the next six months so I will have to go out and give it my all for the club.
“I wish Derry all the best for the rest of the season because I’ll be going back in January hoping the club are in a good position in terms of the league and qualifying for Europe. So I’m hoping to come back into a team that’s doing well.”
The right-back has been training in North Belfast for the last couple of weeks and has settled in quickly as he joins fellow North West men, Ronan Doherty, Aaron Harkin and Ryan Curran.
“I’ve been enjoying it. Just getting up there and getting away from Derry, it’s something different for me and I think I just needed a change to restart everything and get back to where I was.
“I knew a few of the guys up there so that helped me settle in quickly. To have those boys around makes things easier for myself.”
McDermott admits the chance to play in Europe this season was one of the main reasons he agreed on a loan move.
Of course the chance to play under Reds boss, McLaughlin and the promise to play regularly for a top Irish League outfit were other key factors.
However, the versatile defender admits he’s keen to make amends for his only, frustrating, experience playing European football.
The 21 year-old Culmore lad played in the Europa League first round qualifier for Derry City last July when he got sent off in the 2-0 home leg defeat against Dinamo Minsk.
He was an unused sub in the 6-1 drubbing at the hands of FC Midtjylland in Denmark in the same competition in 2017 and was injured for the return leg, but he is desperate to make up for last season’s disappointment.
And the right-back can’t wait to be involved in Cliftonville’s first round qualifier against Welsh club, Barry Town United at the end of the month.
“Cliftonville are a massive club and it’s a chance for me to get games and get back to where I was,” he said. “The only way I can do that is by playing every week.”
“Europe was one of the things I looked at when I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go or not,” he explained.
“When I knew Paddy (McLaughlin) was interested in me it was a no-brainer as he’s a Derry man and I’ve always heard good reports about him.
“But Europe was a factor too. Last year didn’t go too well for me personally as I was sent off in the first round.
“So I want to try and put that right this time around when we play Barry Town in the next couple of weeks.”
Cliftonville travel to the Leckwith Stadium on Thursday, June 27th for the first leg before welcoming the Welsh club back to Solitude the following week and McDermott expects a tough test.
“It’s a handy tie in terms of travelling as we’re not going to Eastern Europe or wherever but it will be a tough one,” he added.
“We will have more time to prepare for it as opposed to getting straight off a flight and playing a game.”