It’s no joke and Derry City’s squad camaraderie is likely one of the many reasons why the Brandywell club has enjoyed such a promising start to the 2022 Airtricity League campaign.
Matty Smith, who hails from Dundee, is settling in nicely to his new surroundings on Foyleside since moving up from Dublin in the close season. He’s living with Milton Keynes native Cameron McJannet and Dubliners Brian Maher and Brandon Kavanagh, a combination which has made the move from St Pat’s that little bit smoother.
All four housemates have made impressive starts to their Derry careers with McJannet, Maher and Kavanagh regulars in Ruaidhri Higgins’ starting XI. Following an injury blighted start to his time at the Brandywell club and a short Covid-related illness, 25 year-old former Dundee United forward, Smith is also beginning to hit form.
He believes the close-knit nature of the Derry dressing room has been a major factor for the club’s table topping form, something which sets this current squad apart from some of the previous teams he’s played with.
“I’ve moved to Derry which is completely different to a big city like Dublin,” he said. “And the house that I’m living in, we all get on very well and the whole team are very close. So I’ve loved it since coming up here.
“I’m staying with McJannet, Brian and Brando, so it’s a very good house. It’s an Englishman, two Irishmen and a Scotsman all in the same household,” he laughed. “That’s a big factor for a team to do well. You need a nice, close-knit team and have boys who are going to meet each other outside of football.
“I’ve been in teams where there has been a bit of separation in the club but coming here has been very good, as well as last season too. The boys here all get on well with each other.”
Smith caught the attention of Higgins last season when scoring 11 league goals for Pats, including a perfect hat-trick which sealed European football against Longford last October. He has yet to get off the mark in a Derry shirt but it’s not for the want of trying.
It could be a case of trying too hard in the chase for the opening strike but he’s not getting overly concerned.
“Once you get that first one you don’t think about it so much. At the moment I’m just thinking about it too much,” he admitted. “I’m thinking ‘I need my first goal’. Against UCD we won 7-1 and I was trying my hardest to get myself a goal but it will come throughout the season so I’m not worried about that.
“For me it’s always about helping the team first. Obviously I would love to get my first goal as soon as possible just to get going. Last year it took me a couple of games to get my first goal and then after that it started to drop to me. So I just have to get that first one and then I’ll hopefully hit the ground running.”
His contribution to the team is the priority for both Smith and Higgins who has every faith in the man he made such a big effort to sign in the close season.
Smith, who played under Alan Reynolds at Waterford before making the move to Pat’s, brings more to the table than just goals and he was delighted to get an assist for his housemate McJannet in that 7-1 drubbing of UCD last weekend.
“For me, I did a lot of hard work up and down that left wing, tracking back. I got that assist as well which is a confidence boost so I’ll take that.”
Returning to Inchicore and his former club on Friday for the first time since the FAI Cup Final, could it be the perfect place to break his duck for Derry?
“I’d take a goal against any team,” he laughed. “I enjoyed myself at Pat’s last season. There are some great people there, player-wise and coaches that are still there that I would know. I had a great time last season but I would love to get a goal against them even though I’d probably get a bit of stick from a few fans, but that’s football.”
Given the attacking talent in both sides, Smith expects plenty of goalmouth action at his old stomping ground as the third placed Saints attempt to close the gap on the Candy Stripes.
“We’ve had a great start but we’re still not getting carried away with ourselves. We’re taking it game by game but I look forward to going back to Pats. They’ve done very well so far this season. They had a good game against us and Patch (Will Patching) scored a late winner but I thought they did very well so it should be a good game.
“We play very good football and so do they. It’s two very good attacking teams and hopefully there’s a lot of goals in the game. I think it will be a good watch for the fans.”
Friday night's trip to Richmond Park marks the start of a difficult run-in for Derry with games against Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and a rescheduled match against the Saints to follow.
Smith knows Derry face a stiff test of their resolve in that mini-run.
“We have a good squad and we want to go on that unbeaten run again but obviously with the games coming up that would be very difficult. They are very tough games but we will keep the heads down and take one game at a time. We’ll do well,” he said confidently.”