DERRY boss, Declan Devine, believes a stubborn defensive policy could prove to be the key if his “Candy Stripes” are to make what would be a surprise appearance at the Aviva Stadium in the final of the FAI Cup given their form this season (k.o. 1.45pm).
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And having recorded a much sought after “clean sheet” against Dundalk on Tuesday night - which halted a frustrating run of five league defeats on the spin - Devine was convinced that the back four he selects to face Shelbourne must be “at themselves” if Derry are to progress to the FAI showpiece on November 4th.
“We managed to get a clean-sheet against Dundalk, that’s what we had hoped for but I’ve got to be honest, because we did get ourselves into difficulty during the early stages when Dundalk could have punished us,” admitted Devine.
“But I believe that the team which defends better on Sunday, will be going through to the final next month,” he added.
Having faced Alan Mathews’ men three times already this season, Derry have lost twice - including a 1-0 result in the Brandywell - but the Foylesiders recorded a 2-0 victory at Tolka Park in their last meeting in August.
“The key for me is the back four and I’m delighted with the players I have in that department. I think we have experience, aggression, power and pace in that unit and we must deal effectively with the threat provided by players of the calibre of Paddy Kavanagh, Philip Hughes and Philip Gorman.
“Both sides know what to expect as we’ve played each other and watched each other regularly this season. I’ve no doubt that it will be a close encounter, but I’m hopeful that we will rise to the occasion at the Brandywell in front of our own support.
“I think we have to use every advantage available and I’m hopeful that our support will come out and assist the young players we have in the squad. A good attendance is very important as far as I’m concerned,” continued the Derry boss.
On the team front, Devine is expected to be facing a selection dilemma with the return to fitness of a number of his injured players.
“We have a number coming back, but some need match fitness and are not firing on all cylinders just yet,” he declared.
“Rory Patterson has been making good progress with his hamstring, but he has yet to kick a ball and he’s already missed 16 weeks of the season, so that certainly doesn’t help him.
“He hasn’t trained and, obviously, is well short on match practise, but the bottom line is that we cannot take major risks with people returning from hamstring problems and to include Rory would be a significant risk in my book.
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“Barry Molloy is also a doubt having sustained a hip flexor problem and I’ve no doubt he will declare himself fit for the game but I’ve got to consider what he will be able to give us over the 90 minutes.
“While I’m certainly worried about Barry, but I also have to admit that while Kevin Deery gives us so much in the centre of the park including determination, strength and leadership he also falls short in match practise - that’s playing at full pelt for 90 minutes.
“And Stephen McLaughlin hasn’t had too much game time either over the past month. But, to be fair, he’s a young player who keeps himself in good nick and I’ve no doubt the will be anxious to start having overcome a groin problem,” continued Devine.
The Brandywell boss said he would deploy a “wait and see policy” on those members of the squad who are carrying knocks, but Derry should be in a position to field a strong starting line-up, plus a strong substitutes’ bench.
In fact Devine was delighted with the performance of Patrick McEleney against Dundalk, the 19-year-old finding his name back on the score sheet with another superb finish.
“I think Patrick earned his goal against Dundalk. He worked hard on the night and when he got his chance he produced the goods to battle hard, move clear of defenders with good pace and then produce that magnificent finish which is always capable of.
“If he continues to produce the same work rate in games I’ve no doubt whatsoever that he will continue to be rewarded. Indeed, he could emerge a big player for us on Sunday should he be selected.
“I actually remember him dragging the team through to a superb victory over Shelbourne when we played in the First Division. Patrick scored two wonder goals that night, but it was his awesome performance which got us through and we need more of that from him.
“I believe he continues to be one of our ‘big game’ players and, hopefully, he will produce the goods on Sunday and help us make arrangements to be travelling to yet another FAI Cup final on November 4th.