THE MAN chosen to wear the Derry City armband and lead the ‘Candy Stripes’ into the 2014 season is cut from the same cloth as one of the local club’s all-time greats!
Cliff Byrne is your quintessential, no nonsense defender and one boasting many of the same attributes as City’s former skipper and current assistant manager, Peter Hutton.
The 31-year-old Dubliner was one of Roddy Collins’ marquee signings during the close season, joining the club after over 15 years plying his trade with clubs in England.
The former Republic of Ireland youth international has marked the likes of Mark Viduka (Leeds), Robinho and Carlos Tevez (Man City) during his time playing in the English FA Cup with Scunthorpe so there’s no doubting his invaluable experience.
Byrne is a commanding presence who will form the backbone of the City defence and Hutton believes the former Scunthorpe skipper ‘ticks all the boxes’ in terms of playing a leadership role in Derry’s defensive unit this season. And he should know!
It’s certainly a ringing endorsement from the club’s longest serving skipper, who captained his hometown club a total of 399 times over a 13 year period - an incredible record which may never be equalled.
And it was a bold decision by Collins and his assistant boss to choose a new signing to don the armband in his debut season but it’s not surprising that they’ve selected a man made of the same ilk as the club’s highly respected and much lauded former captain.
Hutton served at the heart of the City defence for the majority of his 633 appearances in the ‘Candy Striped’ jersey he wore with distinction, therefore, he’s better placed than many to judge the latest player to take up the mantle of leadership at the Lone Moor Road venue.
“He ticks all the boxes in terms of what we were looking for in a captain,” claimed Hutton. “Certainly in terms of experienc, he’s also a leader both on and off the pitch. Cliff’s been there and done it with various teams over in England. He leads by example as well.
“He’s a model professional and he will prove to be good in the changing room for all the young pros.in particular.
“He’s one of a few who could certainly have been handed the captain’s armband. But to be fair to Cliff he stood out in terms of his playing capacity and also he’s got the mark of a man. He’s just that type of role model who will, as I said, lead by example.”
Byrne is an organiser, a talker and a big personality in the changing room. Therefore the similarities between Hutton and Byrne are many and those obvious comparisons have not been lost on Derry’s assistant boss.
“He does remind me of myself in a way because again he’s not an overly loud person,” continued Hutton. “He goes about his business very well and communicates very well with the players around him which is always good.
“And you always need a leader in the back four to organise and dictate to the rest of the defence and the midfielders. He clearly has that quality. He doesn’t just talk for the sake of talking. He communicates well and gives good information.
“The midfielders are already learning from him and I’m sure the likes of Ryan (McBride), Shane (McEleney), Dean Jarvis and young Roddy Collins Jr. will learn a lot from Cliff.
“We were a very, very quiet team last year because there was so many young players in key areas. That needed to be addressed and we have a few more vocal players in there now.”
Last season Derry’s defensive backline was plagued by injuries and it proved to be the catalyst for the unravelling of what first appeared a promising title tilt. Of the teams which finished in the top five in the league standings last year, Derry conceded most goals by some margin with 39 strikes against.
Hutton is keen to rectify that and he’s confident there is plenty of quality, experience and cover in those vital areas to sustain a genuine title charge.
“The defence conceded too many goals last year,” admitted Hutton.
“We were top goalscorers but we were conceding too many. I think the backline, although there was some good quality in it, needed a bit more experience and more depth in terms of cover. Hopefully now we’ve addressed that with the new signings. So we’re happy in terms of the defensive set-up.”