Winger Jamie McDonagh openly admits frustration got the better of him at times during a difficult start to the 2019 season but has vowed to learn from it going into this year’s campaign.
The 23-year-old didn’t make the starting line-up against UCD for the season opener, then received his marching orders at Shamrock Rovers in the Candy Stripes’ second game and was suspended again after being sent-off in the tunnel following the club’s feisty North West derby against Finn Harps.
“I got off to a bad start last year and this year my aim is to first of all be in the starting 11,” conceded the Lisburn native.
“Last year, a bit of frustration built up within myself after I wasn’t involved in the first game and I let myself go on the pitch but I’ve learned from it. It was a bad experience to be sitting on the sidelines watching the boys so I’ll try my best not to let that happen again. I want to use that bad experience and learn from it.
“Personally I’m hoping for a better start this year but I’ll be looking to have a better season than what I did last year; better in terms of playing games, scoring goals and providing assists because I want to help the team as much as I can.
“I’ll not be making any stupid decisions on the pitch and hopefully I can help the boys get as many points as possible.
“Last year was a difficult start for me but after it, the most important thing was having the right mentality while I was out. The boys were training and knew they had a game coming every week. For me, I had to train throughout knowing I wasn’t playing. I had to keep ticking over and making sure I was as fit as I could be so when the chance did come to get back into the team I’d be ready, and I took it.
“I did that pretty well last year. I got myself back into the team because I think the manager saw the quality I had during training and put his trust in me. He gave me a good run of games and I repaid his faith with good performances and, overall, I felt last year was a quite a good year for me. Now I want to take it a step further and push on a bit more.”
The former Northern Ireland U21 international says Dundalk remain the team to beat and is relishing the league opener at Oriel Park.
“Dundalk are the benchmark,” he insists, “Last year they didn’t start well but once they got going, there was no stopping them so we want to go into the Dundalk game as fit as we can. Hopefully they have an off day and we have a good day. We need to build up our fitness levels as much as we can to be that step ahead of Dundalk.
“The games coming up in pre-season will stand us in good stead. We’re looking forward to the first game but now it’s just time to get fit in our attempts to be a step ahead of Dundalk this year.”
The midfielder, who turned down a move to St Patrick’s Athletic in favour of staying at the Brandywell, wants to win more silverware with the Candy Stripes and feels Declan Devine is the man to bring the glory days back to Foyleside.
“The manager told us last year he wasn’t just coming here and sit back to finish fourth, fifth or sixt . Everyone’s aim should be to win something at this club,” McDonagh explained.
“After winning the EA Sports Cup, it gave me the appetite to win more and it’s one of the reasons why I came back. The manager wants to push on and take the club to another level and the boys he has brought in are quality. They want to win trophies. We have got a good group of lads, who will push each other on to the next level.”
One man who has won every honour in Irish football, and whom McDonagh thinks will play a major role in any success Derry may have, is recent signing, Conor McCormack.
McCormack played a big role in Cork City’s double winning success in 2017 and McDonagh admits he’s already seen during pre-season the impact the midfielder has had on the Derry changing room.
“You can see that winning mentality from Conor from the first day he stepped through the door,” McDonagh insisted. “The drive and determination he has in training and the organisation he does on the pitch, he’s a leader.
“We needed that this year, someone who will pull boys about and roar at someone when he needs to be roared at but who can also have a word with the younger boys to help them on the pitch.
“If you are going through tough periods he’s the type of player you want on your side. He wins the ball back really well and he’ll keep it for you.
“Conor’s really good at what he does. There’s a reason he’s won trophies and hopefully he helps take us that step further.”
McDonagh conceded pre-season training has been tough but says he knew what to expect after last year.
“Last year the management team made it as hard as they could. It was a shock for all of us but not this year. During the off season we knew what condition we needed to be in when we came back and I would say we all came back in really good condition.
“It’s good to get in around the lads and get to know the new boys. It’s also good for the new boys to get to know what way training is and how the manager works, his style of play and, most importantly, get all our fitness levels up.
“The gaffer mentioned on Monday that we had done 17 sessions in just over a week so it has been hard but it’s supposed to be like that. To compete at the highest level we need to be as fit as we can be.”