IT WAS an ‘emotional’ return to the UCD Bowl for Derry City midfielder, Greg Sloggett on Friday night and a polished display from a player who continues to display a maturity beyond his 22 years.
UCD boss, Collie O’Neill insisted after the opening game of the season at Brandywell that Sloggett deserved to play on a bigger stage and he’s shown in his nine competitive matches with Derry City how he’s fully embraced the challenge of full-time football.
He may be the most unheralded of Derry’s usual midfield trio but the Co. Meath man has displayed the utmost professionalism on the pitch and off it since making the move north and has been central to Declan Devine’s revolution at the club.
His first Derry goal, which opened the scoring against his former club last Friday night, was evidence of how he can make an impact all over the pitch and it was symbolic of how far he’s come from his part-time days at the Dublin outfit.
The former student stooped to get his head to a Barry McNamee corner and find the back of the net 23 minutes into the first half to ensure a comfortable night for Derry City in south Dublin.
It’s unfair to single out one particular player for praise after such a professional team performance in Belfield but Sloggett’s display showed how vital a cog in the wheel of Devine’s team he is. He’s the oil in the engine room and allows everything and everyone else to click or operate with efficiency.
Since the first day of pre-season Sloggett has covered close to 400km, according to the club’s analysis department - one of the highest at the club! On Friday night, he clocked up 13km on a poor Belfield pitch and finished the game with a 100% key pass accuracy rating. He has a 79% pass accuracy over the course of nine matches.
Barry McNamee got my ‘Man of the Match’ nod on Friday, playing in a more defensive midfield role as his delivery at set-pieces, his ball distribution and his ability to dictate and break up play was outstanding.
That midfield diamond of Sloggett, Ciaron Harkin and McNamee played a key role against a talented UCD side who like to dominate in that area and Sloggett's display against St Pat's at Richmond Park on Monday night further reinforced his importance to the team as he set up Patrick McClean for the opener.
But it’s evident how Sloggett has fully embraced the full-time ethos since his move to Foyleside following the former Computer Science student’s graduation from University College Dublin and thankfully he’s chosen to concentrate fully on his football this year because City are reaping the benefits.
As his ex-manager, O’Neill said before Friday’s game, Sloggett will only get better and even at this early stage of the season you can see those improvements as he grows comfortably into his role in City’s midfield. He’s played all but one league match (at Bohemians) and he’s established himself as a regular starter.
“It’s nice to chip in,” he said modestly after Friday’s match. “I’m not renown for my goals but I do want to score more. I just need more confidence in myself to go and get involved and score more goals. I think there is more in me. Whether I can get that out of myself, who knows?”
The likes of McNamee and Harkin may open spaces, dictate play and create chances while Sloggett’s energetic work largely goes unnoticed but it’s no less effective. And it’s not just his workrate and energy which has impressed. He makes crucial tackles to break up play, covers his defenders and allows the more attacking players the room to find their rhythm. We also saw on Friday how he can kick-start attacks and be a threat from set-pieces.
Such players are overlooked and often undervalued at times but Sloggett is a player who makes sure his presence is felt in every game and I’ve no doubt he’s hugely appreciated by his teammates.
He fully deserved his goal having come so close to scoring past UCD keeper, Conor Kearns moments earlier. He chose not to celebrate in respect of his former teammates who remain good friends - a reflection of his modest, professional character.
His stand-out performance of the season was against Waterford danger man, Bastien Hery at Brandywell in February. He didn’t have much of the ball that night but shadowed the Frenchman around the pitch the entire match and negated his influence.
Playing a role like that doesn’t win plaudits but on Friday night at UCD, we got a glimpse of the other side of his game. Derry were able to break at pace after a terrific, threaded pass from Sloggett which sent Harkin clear and when Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe dribbled past his man he found McNamee at the near post but his shot was deflected wide by a crucial last ditch tackle from Gary O’Neill.
Sloggett’s decision to move north to Derry to focus on his football, far from his comfort zone despite having offers from elsewhere, was a courageous one.
It was a shrewd signing from Declan Devine who had been hugely impressed by the midfielder’s workrate and quality while working as a pundit for RTE during UCD’s unfortunate FAI Cup semi-final defeat to eventual champions, Dundalk last year.
And the City boss was delighted he got off the mark on Friday night which shows how much he’s respected in the dressing room.
“I’m delighted for Greg because he’s a fantastic lad and really talented footballer with so much energy and drive. I’m delighted for him.”
UCD boss, O’Neill had predicted Sloggett would find it ‘mentally tough’ and emotional returning to his former stomping ground but that didn’t prove to be the case.
A late tussle with his former teammate, Richie O’Farrell deep in the Derry half showed he wasn’t about to be rolled over on his return while UCD defender, Josh Collins was quick to bring him crashing to ground when he began a promising attack at the other end.
It was an impressive display from Sloggett and the rest of the team as Devine got it tactically spot-on against a dangerous UCD outfit.
The result put Derry into third spot but Sloggett isn’t getting carried away as he gets on with business quietly, efficiently and with minimum fuss.