Derry City can become dominant force in League of Ireland if they pip Shamrock Rovers to title predicts Liam Coyle
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Ahead of Friday night's league title showdown between the league's top two teams at Brandywell, Coyle - who won the championship with the Candy Stripes in 1989 and 1997 - has called on Derry players to 'embrace this final challenge' if they are to end the 26 years drought and leave their own legacy on Foyleside.
"If Derry can win the league this year, there's every chance they could go on a run over the next two or three years," predicted the League of Ireland great who stressed the importance of getting that first title over the line.
"Rovers have come to the end of their cycle. They have a total rebuild on their hands. So they're probably thinking; ‘we need to win it this year because it could be another couple of years before we win it again’.
"It's all about getting that first one. The League of Ireland always seems to go in cycles. It was Cork and Dundalk up to Rovers four years ago. So if you can get that first one then you have every possibility of keeping it.
"Your footballing life goes in a flash so these boys have got to really embrace this final challenge because if they do they will become immortal in Derry."
Commenting on the Journal's ‘Talking Derry City’ podcast this week, the Candy Stripes legend claimed it would be regarded as an opportunity missed should Derry fail to overhaul Rovers who go into Friday's crunch clash four points better off with just seven games to go.
"They are far from the Shamrock Rovers we've watched over the last two or three years," said Coyle. "I still think Derry will win the league in the next year or two anyway but I think if Derry can get over the line this year, they can go on and dominate it."
Both times Derry clinched the league title they failed to defend it but with the financial resources and backing of the chairman, Mr Philip O'Doherty, Coyle reckons Ruaidhri Higgins can find himself in an enviable position to challenge the dominance of Rovers.
"Unfortunately in our time when we won the league we didn't have the finances to bring players in. We had to sell players.
"Jim (McLaughlin) in '89 didn't have money to bring in players. His only two signings that season were Joe McBrearty and (Paul) ‘Oxo’ McLaughlin.
"In 97 when we won the league, Felix (Healy) had to sell four or five to balance the books. Whereas I think if Derry can get over the line now, with Philip there, you can go out and strengthen next year with another two or three quality players and then you're on a different level altogether.
"That's what Rovers have been able to do. Dundalk did it under Stephen Kenny but it's getting over that line with the first one,” he emphasised."
Derry’s title charge last season faded at the final stretch as Rovers’ experience shone through and Coyle believes the pressure will mount on Higgins’ troops if they fall short again this term.
"If they don't win it this year then the pressure’s on. The pressure’s on the manager straight away.
"People will be going, 'he's spending a lot of money'. You get a couple of bad results and it starts turning.
"Derry at the minute have a lot of players hitting that 30 mark. Mickey's (Duffy) hitting 30, Patrick and Shane McEleney, Ciaran Coll, Mark Connolly - you have a core of players and then you're going to have to start looking at players to come in and replace them.
"I don't mean this in a bad way but I've been there myself. Once you starting hitting 30 your career starts going the other way. He's bought them to win the league.
"There's no getting away from the fact that this team has been assembled to win the league. It hasn't been assembled for the future. If we can win it now, that's it, we can build from there.
"If you don't get over the line this year then the pressure will start to build. Shels I think under Damien Duff will get better with that investment.
"Bohs will get better with that investment and you know Rovers are going to come again. That's the problem.
"So if you can get that first win, it takes the pressure off you and then you can say 'right this is what we need now to try and sustain it'.
"You can just feel it around the Brandywell. It's been that long now everyone's getting to the stage of when is it going to happen?
"You look at it from '88 to '97 - Derry won the league twice and were runners up three times. We were in four cup finals and won the league cup four times or something like that in the space of nine years.
"Since '97 Derry have been runners-up twice in 26 years. During Stephen Kenny's time, there should’ve been league titles in that time with huge amounts of investment put into it.
"To be fair to Ruaidhri, he's come in with one aim and every year he's went up. He makes no apologies for saying he wants to win the league. Ruaidhri knew from day one he was getting backed.
“Once Ruaidhri became available and he knew he could bring the players to Brandywell, that was the game-changer and the fact Philip just happened to sell his company for $2billion at that time.
“Myself and Felix always say, ‘timing is everything in football’ and it just so happened that Ruaidhri was like Charlie in the Chocolate factory.”