DARREN COLE has had plenty on his mind as he braces himself for impending fatherhood while working hard behind the scenes on a tough rehabilitation programme following a devastating knee cruciate injury sustained almost four months ago.
The Scotsman, however, was all smiles last week as his worries were put to rest with a new contract which keeps him at Derry City until the end of the 2020 campaign at least.
As Darren and his girlfriend, former Derry City Commercial & Marketing Manager, Orlaith Meenan, prepare to welcome their first baby next April, the defender has his sights set on another significant date shortly after the arrival of his daughter.
The 27 year-old former Rangers defender expects to be back kicking a ball and in line for a return to action with the Candy Stripes next May, nine months after sustaining his injury in training on the eve of Derry’s 1-1 draw against Waterford at the RSC.
The timing of that injury couldn’t have been any worse for Darren as it occurred whilst he was negotiating a contract extension with the City management following an impressive season at right-back.
Those talks were put on the back-burner and it was an anxious period for the player who was preparing to become a first time dad while facing an uncertain future in terms of his livelihood.
And so he was delighted when City boss, Declan Devine offered a new contract which he duly signed last Wednesday.
Praising the club for keeping faith in him during a difficult time, Darren said he was grateful and determined to return from injury stronger for it.
“As soon as I got the injury, first and foremost I was thinking about not having a contract,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get back fit even though it is a bit of a while away.
“Since I’ve been at the club I’ve showed everyone as much respect as I could and they’ve been great to me. They’ve been brilliant so I’m glad I got the contract and can’t thank them enough.”
Darren, who has made 81 appearances for the club since joining midway through the 2017 season, played a key role in Derry’s league campaign and the run to the EA Sports Cup Final playing as a right-back. He even got in amongst the goals with a spectacular late strike against Waterford on Easter Monday.
His versatility is another reason why he’s so highly valued by Devine and the City management staff with the Derry manager claiming he was ‘as good a footballer as there is in the country.’ High praise indeed, and Darren agreed last season was one of his best campaigns since joining the club.
“Last year was probably one of my best seasons at the club, probably because I was playing a bit higher up the park and maybe had a bit more to offer than playing centre half. I enjoyed that more because I got fitter and played with confidence. There’s a chance you can get a couple of goals too which is always good.”
He admits he’s still trying to come to terms with the fact he will soon be a father but it’s been something which has kept him focussed during those lonely, frustrating days in the gym.
“I don’t even think it’s hit home yet,” he smiled. “We’re having a wee girl, myself and girlfriend, Orlaith,” he confirmed. “The due date is April 6th and we’re both buzzing. The kid is going to be here before I’m even fit but that’s another incentive which keeps me going. The target for me is May or June.
It’s around nine months recovery and I picked up the injury at the end of August so it’ll be May or June at the latest before I’m back,” he predicted.
The former Greenock Morton defender has had company during his recovery process as City youngster, Ronan McKinley also suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury at roughly the same time while Jack Malone has also been a regular at the club gym on the Buncrana Road as he eases his way back after a stress fracture in his foot.
City physio, Michael Hegarty has played a crucial part in helping the trio navigate their way back to full fitness. The players have sacrificed their off-season holidays, training three or four times per week in a bid to get back to their best under the watchful eye of the former Coleraine midfielder.
“There’s been a couple of boys in,” explained Darren. “Ronan McKinley has been in. He’s got the same injury as me so it’s been handy being in with him. Jack (Malone) has been in as well, he’s hurt his foot so it’s good to have boys to help me along. I find it easier to have the boys to work with.
“It would’ve been harder not having them there. Hats off to Mickey too, for coming in every day and helping us. We’re in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday, so four times a week. I’m on the bike and can’t actually run at the minute. So maybe in the gym I’m ahead of the boys but it’s good being advised by Mickey who is experienced with players getting cruciate injuries before and he’s helped them heal. I just need to work harder every day.”
With Conor McDermott moving to Cliftonville on a permanent basis and Darren unavailable until after the mid-season break, Devine will no doubt be in the market for another right-back during the close season.
Jamie McDonagh is back on board for another season but Devine would prefer to have him deployed on the wing were he proved extremely effective last year. Whoever starts the 2020 campaign in the right-back position, Darren isn’t overly concerned and is focused solely on helping out the team once he gets back on the pitch.
“Whoever plays right back is going to play,” he stated. “I’ll just do my best when I get back. Whatever is best for the team is going to happen. I’m going to play as much as I can. If a right back comes in or if Jamie plays there, then whatever. It’s whatever the management staff prefers, So it just depends.”
Darren’s experience is another reason why Devine has stuck by the Scotsman. He made his first-team debut for Rangers in a Champions League clash against Bursaspor aged 17 and so to have him available for the UEFA Europa League games in the summer will be a bonus for the City supremo.