Derry City chairman Philip O'Doherty optimistic ahead of big kick-off
PHILIP O’DOHERTY’S ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting at the end of the 2020 season proved the catalyst for change at Derry City Football Club.
An analysis of both the on-field and off-field performances at the club over the past 30 years highlighted a significant waste of finances in several areas including recruitment, academy and staff.
The Chairman, who has been left to make up the shortfall every season for the past 10 years to balance the books, insisted on dramatic changes to the club’s recruitment strategy and cut the playing budget significantly this year.
Of course Covid-19 brought its own financial challenges last year but given the club finished the truncated campaign in seventh spot and without the safety net of European monies, the Board of Directors were forced to cut their cloth accordingly.
Changes to the first team coaching staff followed but Mr O’Doherty believes the new policies and structure will help sustain the club as they balance investment in the first team and the Academy.
“Obviously we had the European money from the year before,” said Mr O’Doherty when asked how the club navigated its way financially through the past 12 months.
“But my job is to make up the shortfall. There wasn’t as much expenditure on travel because we weren’t playing that many games so we got by. Obviously I have to write a cheque for the shortfall and it will probably be quite a large cheque this year.
“Thankfully the sponsors pretty much have stayed with us even though they weren’t getting much from it. I would like to acknowledge the sponsors who supported us last year and who hopefully will support us again this year even though they’re not getting the same level of coverage.
“People like Paul Diamond and GMK, they’re not getting the best exposure with the lack of matches and lack of spectators seeing their logos.
“All the board sponsors in the ground obviously which has practically been 100 per cent support which we’re delighted with. A lot of these people own businesses that are going through really difficult times so I’m delighted with their support.”
Refusing to dwell on a ‘disappointing’ season in 2020, Mr O’Doherty is optimistic about the new campaign and believes the club is on an upward trajectory.
And having digested the findings of the in-depth club review, he’s clear that the future of the club rests with the success of its academy structures.
“It was a big disappointment on the field, the whole strategy of having so many players coming in on loan didn’t work. We’re going to try and limit that and we have done that this year.
“What the review has done is give us the chance to look at what works and what doesn’t. It all comes back to sustainability and getting value for money.
“There are no great shocks that came out of it but what surprised me was this idea of giving the manager a load of money every year, and Declan got a very big budget last year.
“It’s not fair to assess any manager given the conditions everyone had to go through last year but the bottom line is we certainly need to go back to our roots.
“And when people come in they want to have a feel of a football club that’s not all loan players. We will have loan players, we’re not banning it, but we definitely want a mixture of young players coming through and bringing experienced players in when we can.
“The real solution in terms of sustainability for Derry City has to be the youth system,” he insisted. “We’re having team calls every four weeks with the entire youth team set-up, working under Paddy McCourt. There are three or four members of the board attending these calls.
“We see that we have to put some of the focus and expenditure on youth and bringing players through. There’s no long term future without having a bigger youth involvement because we can’t just keep writing cheques,” he warned.
“I’m here 10 years now and hopefully I’ll be here for another 10 years but I would like to be able to have it where we have a model which doesn’t depend on any one person because it is risky.”
Derry City have signed a total of 176 players over the past 10 seasons and the Board want to see a greater emphasis on the development of homegrown talent.
“Everyone agrees the way forward is to put the emphasis on homegrown talent. At the same time let’s see what’s out there we can bring in.”
The chairman hailed the return of Derry native Danny Lafferty and hopes more of the club’s exiles will return in the coming seasons.
“It’s a continual theme that we have a lot of Derry players who have gone away and have done well and I’m sure it has worked out for them financially but it would be good to see some of them come home.
“Obviously Danny has come home and was in great shape when I saw him in training. He’s in good spirits and is looking forward to the start of the season.
“It’s great to have him back and hopefully other players who are on their travels at the minute, we certainly have very good relations with those players. I was delighted to see Aaron McEneff get his chance in Scotland and I hope it works out for him. I personally was very disappointed he left but I understood his choice.
“So it would have to be a bit of both but we’re certainly not getting as many youth players as we would like, that’s why we want a bigger focus on that.
“The results over the last couple of years have been quite good in terms of players coming through but we think there could be more.”
Declan Devine has offered Academy graduates Ronan Boyce, Patrick Ferry and Jack Lemoignan their first professional contracts this season while the current squad has 14 players who have come through the club’s youth ranks at some stage of their careers.
“There’s a couple of them who will hopefully come through this year and he (Devine) is talking positively about the likes of Ronan Boyce, Patrick Ferry and possibly one or two others.
“Paddy McCourt to some extent has probably the most important job at the club as he’s responsible for the youth team set-up and hopefully we see one or two more coming through this year.”
The City Chairman has been impressed with Devine’s recruitment ahead of the new campaign and believes the Creggan man has got value for money.
“He’s got a good squad and has spent his money well. If you look at what he’s done on a reduced budget, it’s been cut back fairly dramatically, it really has. But I think it’s a better set-up than last year for a lot less money.”
Given the changes to transfer policies and the reduced playing budget, what does the Chairman hope to achieve on the field of play this season?
“I think we can get a European spot, I really do,” claimed Mr O’Doherty, “I’m looking forward to the season and silverware would be absolutely fabulous.
“A European spot for us is really important for us because it’s about E230,000.
“It’s important to get off to a good start. Last year we didn’t really get a good start and haven’t had a good start to a season in a while.
“Looking around there seems to be a lot of clubs that haven’t strengthened the way they normally do so it will be a very interesting season.
“I hope we can get through it and complete the full list of fixtures. Obviously last year we played two thirds of them and it wasn’t great. I’d like to see us get a full season in.
“The Covid numbers are going down but the most important thing is safety, for players, backroom team, staff and obviously spectators when they come in, but I certainly hope we have a full season.”