Derry City identify 'fabulous' site for new Academy base and it's 'the only show in town'

DERRY CITY Chairman Mr Philip O’Doherty believes the club has identified a ‘fabulous location’ for the construction of its planned High Performance Centre on the old Foyle College site on Duncreggan Road.

By Simon Collins
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 9:41 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 9:42 am
The old Foyle College senior school site on Duncreggan Road has been identified by Derry City Football Club as the perfect location for its proposed new Academy base. Photograph by George Sweeney.

A steering committee has been set up by the club tasked with finding suitable land across Derry and Donegal with the potential to house a new state-of-the-art training base and Mr O’Doherty has described the Duncreggan Road site as ‘the only show in town’.

The land is currently owned by Ulster University who purchased it in January 2019 and was expected to be part of wider plans to secure a medical school for the city. However, despite demolition work on the many non-listed structures at the site, the future purpose of the land has yet to be decided by the university and Mr O’Doherty is hoping Derry City Football Club can take it off their hands.

Negotiations between the university and Derry City are ongoing as the Brandywell club ramp up its bid to buy the site outright or, alternatively, secure a long term lease.

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Derry City FC hope to construct a state of the art High Performance Centre to house both its Academy teams and first team which would include a gym, several grass and 4G pitches as well as offices.

Mr. O’Doherty, who recently sold his E&I Engineering firm to US electrical manufacturer Vertiv for $2 billion, is determined to leave a legacy for the football club and the city and believes the proposed new training facility would be a shrewd investment.

“It’s not so much a legacy for me, I think the city needs it,” said Mr O’Doherty. “The city needs a lift. We’ve been through a tough time these last five or six years and Derry, as a city, has endured a lot. I would like to give the people some positivity, I really would.”

How confident is he that he can persuade the university to sell such a prime site?

“It’s in the hands of the university,” he explained. “They have land they’re apparently doing nothing with. We offered to lease it. We offered to buy it, we offered to build on it and give them access to it, so I can’t do anymore at the minute. We’re waiting on a decision but it’s a fabulous location.”

Many of the non-listed structures at the site have already been demolished.

The Steering Committee, which is headed by former assistant manager, Hugh Harkin, has scoured the North West for a suitable location for the new base which will include several grass and 4G pitches, changing facilities, a gym and club offices. However, the close proximity to the city centre and the size of the land made the Duncreggan Road site the standout location.

“A lot of areas in Derry are quite accessible to that area in the Northland Road,” explained Mr O’Doherty. “You can come from Shantallow, from Ballymagroarty, Creggan. It’s a bit further from the Waterside but not a million miles away. It’s that accessibility and the scale.

“We actually went through a search process of what sites are available. It really is the only show in town. There were sites out the Culmore Road direction but it was so far away really and it’s a big deal for young people to get taxis out there and back. It’s too much of a cost to get to training sessions, so it’s all about accessibility.

“I want it to be our home forever,” he insisted. “I want to own it and basically use it properly. I want the youth teams training beside the first team and having the same facilities.

“You would get more loyalty to the club then and it would be a good place for the parents to come, have a coffee in good surroundings and watch training and I think Derry City would attract even more players as a result.

“We could put three pitches on that land and a gym and maybe something the size of our unit (in Elagh Business Park) with offices above it. Something really professional.

“Ruaidhri Higgins said something very interesting the other day,” he continued. “The Dundalk players drive in in the morning and it’s like going into a professional football club in England.

"They spend the whole day there. They get their lunch there and watch games so there’s a camaraderie. They’re like proper professional footballers at a huge club and that sort of environment would make a huge difference to us.”

City Chief Executive Sean Barrett stressed the importance of establishing a place where the club’s academy can call home and revealed initial plans for the Duncreggan Road site have already been drawn up.

“We’ve done drawings for it but again, we’re waiting on the university but that’s what we’re working so hard to pursue because I think that’s so important to the future of this club,” said Mr Barrett.

“This is a soccer area and there’s so much potential out there, so it’s immensely important we get the academy structures right; get the young players coming here, keeping them here until their at the right age and I’m sure everyone is very proud when you see a Derry man or Donegal man who played for Derry City, coming out on the pitch in England. It’s fabulous.

“I’m hearing names of boys who are going to the likes of United and Everton already; they’re at that level. I think if we get that right it’s a bright future for the club.”