Derry City flying the flag for absent friends

MARCH marks a dark anniversary for Derry City fans as it has been 12 full months since the turnstiles last clicked at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 9:34 am
Updated Thursday, 18th March 2021, 9:36 am
The late Hugh Curran.

The League of Ireland was halted on March 12th 2020 due to the growing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic and nothing’s been quite the same since.

While the league got the green light to proceed the following July, Derry City supporters have been forced to watch games from the safety of their own home as restrictions remain in place one year on.

That full house for the excellent 2-0 win over Bohemians on Foyleside seems a distant memory and while so much has happened in the intervening period, so little has changed.

Despite the vaccine roll-out north and south of the border, we are still far from the crisis being over. Once again there will be empty seats at souless stadia with eerie silences occasionally punctured by shouts from players and coaches or the artificial fans’ noise from the tannoy.

Hope springs eternal though and the new season brings some promise for fans. Perhaps we’ll start to see some bums back on seats this summer.

However, as Derry City prepare to kick-off the new campaign at Longford this Saturday, it’s a time to pause and reflect on some absent friends who won’t be far from the thoughts of those associated with everyone at the club - those members of the Candy Stripes’ ‘family’ who passed away over the course of the past 12 months.

The Brandywell club’s loyal band of supporters has lost some key characters and when the crowds eventually return, their empty chairs will be a painful reminder of their loss.

Hugh McMonagle who passed away recently.

The likes of club legend Willie Curran and lifelong supporters Hugh Curran, described by Declan Devine as ‘irreplaceable’, Hugh McMonagle, a ‘colossus’ and fellow Pride of Northside member, John Campbell, all leaving a significant void.

March also marks the anniversary of the tragic passing of club skipper Ryan McBride who scored his final goal for the club in the victory over Dundalk at Maginn Park Buncrana four years ago this week!

The new Mark Farren Stand was officially opened by the late striker’s mother and father in an emotional pre-match ceremony on Derry’s return to Brandywell on March 2018 in honour of the club’s record goalscorer who sadly passed away in 2016. Mention of those fallen Derry City heroes evokes some fantastic memories and they will never be forgotten.

Their passion and pride in representing Derry City Football Club was immense and hopefully the club can honour the passing of those aforementioned supporters when fans return and can show their own appreciation.

For now, Derry fans must be content with watching the Candy Stripes on WatchLOI and hopefully the service is improved from last weekend’s President’s Cup coverage.

Nothing replicates that matchday atmosphere and watching football live at the ground but the streaming last season was a welcome substitute for fans.

However, there were gremlins in the system during Friday night’s clash between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers as coverage was interrupted on occasion when the camera man was forced to wipe the rain off the camera lens.

There were reports of sound going down and lagging across the country and it caused me to miss Dundalk’s equalising goal while I eventually gave up on my dodgy stream when it froze just before the decisive penalty shoot-out.

One camera and no replays isn’t sufficient but let’s hope it’s enough to keep club supporters invested in the league and their respective clubs until they’re permitted to return.

The match marked the return of League of Ireland football for another season and it promises to be a fascinating campaign.

Dundalk clinched another President’s Cup title but I’m not convinced they can reclaim their league crown simply because of the large turnaround of players from across Europe and the US.

The 6ft 6in former B36 Torshavn centre half, Sonni Ragnar Nattestad announced his arrival by scoring the opener before being harshly sent off. He looks a quality acquisition while Albanian-Italian keeper Alessio Abibi was hailed the hero in the shoot-out.

It will take time for those new recruits to gel while Michael Duffy’s absence through injury will put pressure on the Lilywhites during a tough opening series of games.

The confusion surrounding the management set-up, however, has been a significant distraction going into the season. Whether it’s as big a distraction inside the Dundalk camp is the telling question.

For me, however, Shamrock Rovers are the team to beat once again.

As for Derry City, Declan Devine has rebuilt his squad and they could become the surprise packages this season should they manage to steer clear of injuries.

There’s been some shrewd signings in the close season and Devine will be keen to go quietly about his business under the radar while he plots to close the gap on the leading lights.