DECLAN DEVINE has hit back at St Pat’s boss Stephen O’Donnell who suggested Derry will face a ‘diluted’ Finn Harps tonight, claiming the ex-Dundalk skipper could call in a favour from his former club in their own quest for European football.
Following St Pat’s shock 3-1 win at Brandywell on Tuesday night, O’Donnell used his post-match interview to question the league’s end of season fixture scheduling which he believes has hindered his side’s chances of clinching fourth.
The Saints boss believes Derry are at an unfair advantage going into the final round of fixtures given Harps will have one eye on Monday’s promotion/relegation play-off against either Cabinteely or Drogheda.
The Candy Stripes need just a point from the north west derby clash to secure fourth while the Saints travel to O’Donnell’s former stomping ground, Oriel Park, home of the champions, Dundalk, needing a victory to keep their hopes alive.
When Devine became aware of O’Donnell’s comment regarding a ‘watered down’ Finn Harps team, the City boss wasn’t best pleased and countered by questioning the strength of the Dundalk team St Pat’s would be facing this evening.
“Stephen is also going back to his ex club,” Devine hit back. “I’m sure Stephen and Vinny (Perth) have a good relationship as well.
“Dundalk haven’t won in two games so we’ll see if Dundalk put out a proper strong team against them on Friday night.
“Stephen can’t have it all his own way,” he added. “If he’s questioning Harps then I’ll question Dundalk and we’ll see where that takes us.”
O’Donnell’s comments have certainly stoked the flames ahead of the crunch final day fixtures as the race for fourth goes right down to the wire.
Whether it’s a case of playing mind-games or simply an opportunity to gripe about the ridiculous scheduling from the FAI, O’Donnell reckons the situation is ‘farcical’.
“Finn Harps are obviously going to rest all their players - something you can’t blame them for given they have such a big play-off game just three days after the last game of the season,” he said.
“It’s farcical to be honest. If I was Finn Harps’ management I’d do the same but the whole set-up is farcical.
“You have a case where Derry are going to play a really diluted, watered down Finn Harps team on Friday. It’s not ideal but I suppose we just have to concentrate on ourselves. Get ourselves ready for the game on Friday against Dundalk - a tough enough game.”
Given what’s at stake, fourth place and in the region of E220,000 for participation in the UEFA Europa League preliminary round, O’Donnell believes it’s ‘wrong’ that both Derry and Pat’s have had to play three season-defining games in the space of a week.
“Again, having to play Friday, Tuesday, Friday - the same for Derry - is not ideal coming into the last week of the season. There’s a long enough schedule for these things not to happen.
“A lot of things are wrong with it but having to play three games and Derry had to play Saturday, Tuesday, Friday in the last week of the season - such pivotal games - it just shouldn’t be happening.”
Derry City’s fate remains in their own hands and while Devine reckoned Tuesday’s performance was his side’s worst of the season, he’s determined to cross the finish line and end the season on a high.
“I think the most important thing is getting across the line and getting the point we need. I’ve never been involved in a ‘handy’ North West derby in my life and I’m sure it won’t be a handy one on Friday. We’ve given ourselves a bit of work to do. We’ll have to get ourselves ready, mentally and physically, for a north west derby and look at trying to get three points.
“If we get three points we’ve well and truly qualified but we’ve made it extremely difficult for ourselves for that third spot.”