David Parkhouse has 'no regrets' about ill-fated Derry City spell as he rediscovers form with Ballymena

DAVID PARKHOUSE insists he has no regrets about leaving Sheffield United for an ill-fated sojourn at Derry City last January and after a frustrating 12 months barren spell he’s got the ‘fire back’ in his belly and rediscovered his goalscoring touch at Ballymena United.

BACK ON THE GOAL TRAIL . . . .  David Parkhouse celebrates getting off the mark with Ballymena United with dramatic derby winner
BACK ON THE GOAL TRAIL . . . . David Parkhouse celebrates getting off the mark with Ballymena United with dramatic derby winner

The 22 year-old striker still has his best years ahead of him but 2021 marked his lowest ebb as rejection and abrupt exit from Derry City just eight months into his three-year deal was compounded by an injury sustained in his first game for Ballymena which threatened to end his maiden season in the Irish League.

It was a far cry from 2019 when he finished as Derry’s top goalscorer with 19 strikes in all competitions and performances which earned him a place in the PFAI Team of the Year and shortlisted for the PFAI Young Player of the Year award.

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Parkhouse, who was snapped up by Sheffield United from Maiden City as a 14 year-old, turned down the opportunity to stay with the Premier League outfit who were nose-diving back to the Championship and offering first team opportunities to its promising Academy graduates.

He felt his hometown club would provide stability both on and off the pitch and returned to Brandywell last January on a permanent deal and amid much fanfare.

The move ended a six-year plus association with Sheffield United but his second stint didn’t exactly go to plan as Derry experienced a disastrous start to the campaign. Winless after six games an out-of-form Parkhouse simply couldn’t get off the mark in front of goal.

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A change of manager didn’t help his situation as Declan Devine was replaced by Ruaidhri Higgins who brought with him his own playing style and vision for the club which ultimately didn’t feature Parkhouse who was edged out of contention with the arrival of Jamie McGonigle who proved an instant hit.

Parkhouse, who says he has a renewed determination to eventually return to full-time professional football in England, bears no grudges for the way events unfolded on Foyleside and insists he’s not the type of character to sulk.

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‘Parky’ gets onto the end of Brendan Barr’s cross and directs the ball past the Coleraine keeper to clinch a dramatic derby win for Ballymena United.

While he’s at a loss to explain the reasons his move to Derry didn’t work out nor why he couldn’t replicate the form shown in his previous spell, he claims he’s ‘grateful’ for the experience which has motivated him to return to his best at Ballymena.

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“I know people might see it as a bad thing but I’m grateful for that happening because I think it makes me more positive,” said Parkhouse who was philosophical about his difficulties.

“Life isn’t a walk in the park and you don’t get anywhere unless you experience the bad things because you’ll never know how to react to them. I found myself in this situation and I’m grateful for it. It just fills me more with motivation to do well.”

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The former Northern Ireland U21 striker had an offer on the table to remain at Sheffield United but he felt it was time to come home and relaunch his career at Derry.It would be easy to dwell on what could’ve been had he had stayed at Bramall Lane but he’s confident he’s on the right path again after a character building detour with the Candy Stripes via brief loan spells with Stevenage and Hartlepool.

Derry City loanee, Brendan Barr in action against Coleraine for Ballymena United recently.
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“I didn’t have to come back to Derry when I did because I had a new contract I could’ve signed with Sheffield,” he explained. “I took matters into my own hands and just wanted to get home and play football. I said when I came back that I didn’t want to turn into a journeyman.

“Obviously things went the way they did and to this day I’m still clueless as to the reasons for that. At the end of the day I didn’t feel like I got a fair crack but the decisions were made and everything was left on good terms. I don’t hold any grudges and I’m still close with a lot of boys at Derry and still watched them up until the end of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing the new season because they have a few new faces in and I’m just glad to see my hometown club going in the right direction.

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“It’s easy for people to turn round and say, ‘I regret doing it’ (coming back to Ireland) but you make decisions at the time based on what’s going on in your life. It would be easy for me to say I regret making the move back to Derry because I was next in line for the first team when I left Sheffield. After I left Sheffield and their season went the way it went, the younger boys who were below me were making their debuts so it would be easy to look back and think if I’d stayed I could be playing for the first team. Who knows?

“In the space of a year I’ve gone from playing full-time with a Premier League team to playing part-time for Ballymena but I’m not one for dwelling on things. Like I said, you make decisions at the time. Moving on to Derry I had proven myself. I have shown what I can do and still have a lot more to offer. It was just a funny start to the season at Derry. It wasn’t going well for anybody.

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David Parkhouse celebrating with the matchball after scoring four goals against Waterford in the EA Sports Cup during his memorable first spell with Derry City.

“I probably could count on both my hands how many opportunities I got at Derry because everybody was going through a rough patch. Whenever Ruaidhri came in he told me that I had proven myself and he knew what I could do. A couple of weeks later he told me, ‘We’re making a change’.

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“It went the way it went but at the same time it led me to Ballymena and I’m at a good stable place where the manager is unbelievable with me. I really rate him highly.”

Parkhouse is in a positive mood having fully recovered from fracturing his knee and sustaining ligament damage in a nasty challenge against Warrenpoint. And after getting off the mark for the Braidmen thanks to his memorable winner in the dying seconds against derby rivals Coleraine, Parkhouse then bagged a brace against Portadown at the weekend and suddenly his ‘annus horribilis’ is long forgotten.

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Scoring a goal of such magnitude, his first for the club against Coleraine in front of the home support at the Warden Street venue, provided a huge emotional release for Parkhouse.

“It was just a release,” he said. “Obviously that’s my aim to get on the end of crosses so I was getting frustrated in the first half. Brendy (Barr) saw the opportunity to cross it in and I just did what’s in my job description. Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time. My phone was going mad that night too and I just had to put it down. It was just a big relief to get that monkey off my back,” he smiled.

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“I wouldn’t say I needed the goal. Strikers get into bad ruts when they’re not scoring goals and I know that can happen but I have confidence that when I’m playing well the goals won’t be too far away and that’s what happened and it was amazing.”

While he’s grateful to be back playing again after that untimely injury on his debut, his rehabilitation provided much needed time for reflection and Parkhouse believes he’s returned with an improved mentality and as a better player.

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“I know my recovery from injury could’ve been a lot longer but thankfully I didn’t have to get surgery. At the same time I got a break that I didn’t have for the last two years. I know I was still doing my rehab but I had a lot more time to focus on where I was going, when I was coming back and what shape I wanted to come back in.

“It gave me that time to reflect. I was chatting to the coaches and said to them, from training and even coming off the bench and playing with the reserves, I felt like a far better player. I don’t know what that’s down to. It’s probably just pure determination that I’ve always had or hard work and wanting to do well. I feel like I’ve come out of it very fortunate.

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“David Jeffrey has been brilliant since I first walked through the door and I can’t fault him at all. That goes for the team as well. All the lads, it’s the same feeling as it was at Derry where everybody gets along with everyone and would run through brick walls for everybody. That’s the environment you want to be in as a football.

“People could say Ballymena had the same sort of start as we had at Derry last year but there were 10 new faces coming into the squad at the start of the season, including myself, and so it was going to be a matter of weeks for everyone to gel, especially being part-time. Now we’re starting to gel and it’s starting to pay off. We’re starting to play well and get results.”

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Parkhouse’s maiden strike in the derby was put on a plate by Derry City loanee Brendan Barr (inset) who has experienced his own challenges since first breaking into the Candy Stripes’ first team last year but the Newtown lad is now beginning to produce his best form again.

“We all saw bits and pieces of what Brendy could do at Derry but that’s nothing compared to how he’s playing now,” claimed ‘Parky’. “Myself and Brendy go up and down the road together and talk flat out about certain things, I told him that although I’m only 22 I feel like I’ve been through it all in terms of ups and downs, especially over the last year. So I know how to conduct myself in certain situations.

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“I told him he just needed to grasp it. It might be difficult at the start because he was an unknown quantity and needed to show people what he could do. He was injured at the start of the season and had a few ups and downs but all he wanted to do was play. He got his opportunity and he’s been in the squad ever since. He’s been brilliant and has a lot more to offer as well.”

As the nephew of ex-Glentoran and Derry City striker, Stephen Parkhouse, David has benefited from the many pep talks, advice and private training sessions from the Maiden City Academy coach during his return from injury. Those extra training sessions have also filled the void brought about by the transition to part-time football which he admits was difficult at first.

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“I’ve been in full-time football since I was 14 basically. I had loads of options north and south and even had a couple to go back to England when that situation with Derry came about. My next move after my release from Derry was crucial for me because I needed to be playing football. Whether that was part-time or full-time it didn’t matter as long as I was getting games. That’s all that matters. Scouts don’t come to watch you when you’re training. They’re there when it matters.

“At the start I definitely found it tough to cope with after being full-time for so long. That was all I ever knew. That’s not to say I’m training two times a week and that’s me taking it easy the rest of the time. I’m still doing my own bits and pieces in Derry whether that’s going to the gym and I have my uncle Stephen as well who can also take me out for a couple sessions if I need them.

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“The transition was hard at the start and tougher when I got injured. I found myself in the situation where I had to do all the rehab myself. That’s not to say I needed someone there to do it with me, it’s just I was used to being in an environment where I had, 24/7, a physio or strength and conditioning coach sitting down beside making sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

“Flipping that on its head, having been full-time for so long it taught me how to cope with it. I know how to work around the gym. Jools (Julie Alexander) down at Ballymena the S&C coach and Head physio Gary (Crosbie) have been brilliant with me through the injury but all in all the transition was tough at the start. I’ve got used to it now.

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“I’m content where I am but looking further down the line I want to reach the top - that’s the ultimate goal. The only way I’m going to get there is if I have it in my head that I’m on a full-time schedule.”

Ringing in the New Year with those two goals against Portadown - although the striker had strong claims for a hat-trick and awaits the decision from the dubious goals committee - Parkhouse is excited about what the future holds and he’s hoping his hot streak continues in the Irish Cup against Loughgall on Saturday.

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“Definitely, there are flames in the belly. A lot of people would’ve sulked if they went through the same scenario but I’m not that type of person. I’ve got the fire in my belly and I know where I want to be. I always wanted to go further and get back to England. I found myself in this situation and I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful to Ballymena for giving me the opportunity because that just fills me more with motivation to do well for Ballymena and for myself.

“Getting a house was always on the cards for me back home and family life is going very well but at the same time I don’t have that mindset where I’m happy and content because I want to get back to England. That’s the ultimate goal and I’ll do everything I can to achieve it.

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“For now my aim is as simple as just getting more games and getting more goals and seeing where that takes me. My contract isn’t up for another two and half years and as far as I’m concerned I’ll be at Ballymena for that length of time. Whatever happens in between that time happens. The only thing I’ll be focused on is games and goals and doing my bit for the team and the manager.”

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