EOIN TOAL reckons it would’ve been a ‘tragedy’ had Derry City failed to qualify for Europe given how the club has gone about its business this season.
The Candy Stripes left it until the final day of the season before securing their place in next summer’s Europa League with a 4-0 hammering of Finn Harps and Toal believes this season can be the beginning of something special under Declan Devine.
The 20 year-old centre half, who was presented with the Pride of Northside Supporters Club’s Player of the Year prior to kick-off on Friday night, is one of just FOUR players remaining from last season’s City panel.
And so he’s ideally placed to understand the transformation at the club inside 10 short months and the talented Northern Ireland U21 international believes the future is bright for the Brandywell club.
“Last year wasn’t good and it went bad near the end,” reflected the defender. “But it was a new squad this year and the fans have been great all year. It’s brought light to the city as well. We always do it for the people of Derry because they back us 100 per cent and have done throughout the year.
“It’s really exciting. I think there are only four players from last year that have finished this season. So it’s a totally new squad. And if you look at the top squads in Ireland they’ve been building for three or four years. We’re only getting going so hopefully the future is bright.
“I couldn’t be any happier to be honest,” he added. “We came so far and it would’ve been a tragedy if we didn’t get into Europe.”
After the disappointment of Tuesday night when City were stunned by a 3-1 loss at the hands of their European rivals, St Pat’s at Brandywell, Toal insists they simply had to see it through against Harps.
“The boys dug in really deep tonight and after Tuesday night we knew we had to put things right and we did. We did it in style with Junior getting a hat-trick and winning the Golden Boot. I live with Junior so I couldn’t be any happier for him.
“It just shows you we’re not a million miles off but there’s work to be done and we’ll look forward to January already for pre-season. We will just do what we did this year. We’ll take it one game at a time and give 100 per cent. That’s the way we’ve been doing it. Out-working teams and showing our fitness levels and trying to do the best we can.”
Following his breakthrough season in 2018, Toal has fully established himself as a top centre half with the Candy Stripes and formed an outstanding partnership with his good friend, Ally Gilchrist, at the heart of the City defence.
Likened by former City boss, Kenny Shiels to Leicester City’s Johnny Evans, Toal has matured into one of the top young prospects in the league with Championship club, Ipswich Town reportedly keeping tabs on the former Armagh City man. So what’s been the secret to his success this season?
“It’s been a good season for myself. Obviously being away with Northern Ireland U21s as well has brought my game on. Declan (Devine) has put faith in me from day one and has rarely taken me out. I’ve played most of the games.
“Declan and Paddy(McCourt), Deerso (Kevin Deery) and Marty (McCann). I’m just so happy they stuck with me throughout the year whereas last year I was in and out so I’m looking forward to the New Year already.
“Myself and Ally (Gilchrist) have come on well together. It was myself and Darren Cole at the start at the back and then Ally and Coley. But since myself and Ally went in at centre half together we’ve done well. We’re best mates as well so that only helps.
“I feel more confident. If I make a mistake I let it go and move on. This year I’ve just been consistent and playing every week is the main thing, especially with me being just 20. There’s not many 20 year-old centre halves playing every week so I’m just happy to be in this position.”