Derry City target Conor McCormack says European football is a key factor in his next move

Conor McCormack wants to play in Europe again next season.
Conor McCormack wants to play in Europe again next season.

DERRY CITY target, Conor McCormack insists he wouldn’t rule out a return to the Brandywell club next season and believes he could add much needed experience to Declan Devine’s young team.

The Cork City midfielder is considering offers from several clubs, including the Candy Stripes, as his current contract expires next month and admits he’s been extremely impressed by Devine’s rejuvenated charges.

Derry romped to a 4-1 win at Turner’s Cross last June and again put Cork to the sword in a 4-0 victory at Brandywell last September and the midfielder claims the Foylesiders were the ‘toughest team’ he played against last season.

He spent 18 months at the club under ex-City managers, Peter Hutton and Kenny Shiels during the 2015 and 2016 seasons and the former Cork captain has been impressed with the ‘positive changes’ at the Brandywell since Devine and his backroom staff have come on board.

“Playing against Derry this year was really tough,” he said. “To tell you the truth, they were probably the toughest team I played against this year. They suffocated us in the middle and just ran over the top of us. In games at home and away, they fully deserved their wins against us.

“Playing against Declan’s team you can hear him on the touchline shouting and roaring instructions and the players are getting the most out of it. They’re getting their energy from him and, to be fair, he’s done an incredible job, both him and his backroom staff, to get Derry back where they always should be.

“The last few times we’ve been up there I’ve thought ‘this isn’t the Brandywell I remember’. The current Derry team is swarming all over you and you haven’t a second to breathe. It’s a tough place to go. They’ve been doing unbelievable and we’ll just see what develops over the next few weeks.

“They’re always underdogs every year. Everyone always writes them off but there’s so many good people up there, I know from playing up there and the fans as well. There’s a lot of positives and with the stadium they have now there’s a lot of things going in the right way up there.

“I went up to Derry and it was ‘Pizza’ who signed me in the summer window,” he recalled. “I went up and saw the potential the team had at the time. I think they were actually second from bottom when I arrived and we got them up to mid-table that season. We then lost a couple of good players with ‘Fats’ (Patrick McEleney) going to Dundalk and Stephen Dooley going to Cork.

“Kenny Shiels came in and we finished third that season and had a good run in the cup. I really enjoyed my football in Derry. I got my move to Cork and thankfully we won the league that year. We won the cup double and I was made captain and it went from strength to strength.

“The club has now decided to go on a different route with a new manager and it’s time for Cork to rebuild again now.”

Last season was a remarkable fall from grace for a team which has been battling with Dundalk for major honours over the previous six seasons. McCormack represented Cork in Europe during the past three seasons, including a Champions League first qualifying round tie against Legia Warsaw.

While he’s undecided where he will ply his trade in 2020, Derry could potentially hold an upper hand over rivals, St Pat’s, Sligo and Shelbourne given they’ve qualified for next season’s Europa League.

“There are a few clubs interested from up the higher end of the table and also a few clubs from up north as well that have been asking about my situation and abroad, in the States as well.

“So I’ve had a lot to take in this last couple of weeks. I never felt the need for an agent before and now I can understand why players get agents as you’re on the phone constantly.

“It’s an interesting time for me. I haven’t ruled anything out and I’m giving a lot of managers time and I’m not shutting down any offer. I’ve sat down with a couple of managers now and they’ve told me about their ambitions and where they see themselves in the next couple of years.”

Playing in Europe and challenging for trophies will be a key factor for the player.

“As a player you always want to challenge yourself and play at the highest level against the best and playing in Europe has been great. You want to play in those games. Those games are the ones you remember. So it will be in the back of my mind when I’m going to do a deal with a club.

“I’m going to take it all in at the minute and give everyone a chance. At the end of the day I’ll decide what’s best for me and where I can see myself playing and hopefully being successful.”

The energetic midfielder would expect to fit seamlessly into Devine’s team given his workrate, professionalism and winning mentality and it comes as no surprise he was approached by the Brandywell club. But does he feel he could add something extra to the current crop of City players?

“I definitely wouldn’t rule anything out,” he insisted.

“When I was speaking to them (Derry) it’s that type of player they want. They want winners, they want someone who has a bit of experience as well so they can push on.

“They’re a bit short in experience but they’re very hungry players and you noticed that playing against them. They just need that bit of experience to push them on to the next level or to bridge the gap between the top two.

“Obviously Declan and his team want to put a good mix together to build a good team and I think he’s only a couple of players short of that. If I’m at Derry or I’m not at Derry next year, there’s no doubt about it they’ll be up around the top of the table and will be a test for anyone.”

Despite a disappointing season with Cork, McCormack believes he can hold his head high given his efforts during the campaign. He certainly holds all the aces in terms of his future and will consider his options in the coming weeks.

“I’m pretty happy with most of the games I played last season. I played under three different managers this year and it wasn’t easy. I can only play to my own ability and personally at the end of the season I can put my head up high and say I gave it everything. That’s the type of player I am. I expect standards of myself and even if things aren’t going our way I always give it my best.

“I still have the hunger and drive and want to be successful. I’m 29 now so I have a couple of years left and I want to be playing at the highest standard I can and win as many trophies as I can before I have to hang up the boots.”