MARK Stewart is relishing the challenge of stepping into the unknown with his new club, Derry City, this weekend.
The 25 year-old Scot is heading into new territory on Sunday when the ‘Candy Stripes’ open their 2014 campaign against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium.
One of 10 new signings brought in during Roddy Collins’ close season overhaul, Stewart is slowly finding his feet in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Lone Moor Road venue.
He’s been on Foyleside since completing his move on January 14th and, attracted by the lure of European football, he believes he’s in the right place to reignite his career.
However, the pacey striker admits that he knows very little about League of Ireland football or, indeed, the club’s opposition this Sunday.
“If I’m being honest I never really paid much attention to the League of Ireland before now,” said the Glaswegian. “Not until this opportunity came up.”
“Playing in Europe was obviously one of the main attractions for me. When I was with Falkirk I missed playing in the Europa League through injury so when I heard the boys here had qualified for Europe, it was another thing to attract me to come over here and I’m looking forward to it.”
Derry City face a tough start to the league campaign, opening in Tallaght, before facing Cork City, Drogheda United, St Pat’s, Sligo Rovers and Dundalk but Stewart believes playing the top teams in the opening six fixtures could play into Derry’s hands.
“I know we play Shamrock Rovers who are big team in Ireland and one of the favourites for the title,” he said. “Then we play Cork who are expected to be a big team and then we play St Pat’s and Sligo.
“So by all accounts it’s a tough start but that might be a good thing. If we can come out of those fixtures in good shape then it sets us up for the season and it’ll be something to build on.”
Collins has truly put his own stamp on the club with the new faces he’s brought in, but despite all the changes Stewart’s early assessment is that the team has blended well and he’s confident they can compete for major honours this season.
The former Falkirk and Bradford striker has had a longer pre-season than most having spent time training with the Kilmarnock squad and he’s ready to hit the ground running.
“I’m itching to get going,” he enthused. “This is my second pre-season already because I’ve obviously already completed one back in Scotland. So I can’t wait for the season to start.
“It’s been a long pre-season but the boys are in good nick and we’ve had good preparations so we’re all ready to get going.”
Stewart is eager to team up with last season’s League of Ireland top goalscorer, Rory Patterson - who netted 18 league goals in that last campaign - and he believes the club now have a potent attacking line with Enda Curran, Ryan Curran and himself all pushing for a starting berth this Sunday.
“We’ll work on the Shamrock Rovers game this week and get an idea of who is going to start the game,” he said. “We were a little bit disappointed with the performance (against Coleraine) last Saturday but it’s good to get those performances out of the way in pre-season.
“You’ve got Rory who obviously has a really good pedigree, especially in this league. But you’ve also got Enda and Ryan Curran so there is good options up front and I think we’re well equipped going into the season and hopefully we can do well in the league and be up there come the end.”
But he refused to set any personal targets: “I’m just looking to play every week and if the goals come then I’ll be helping the team. I just want to stay fit and hopefully play every week and we’ll see what happens,” he concluded.