AARON McENEFF regrets having never won a trophy since making the return to his hometown club from Tottenham Hotspur in 2015 but despite the many changes afoot at Brandywell he’s determined to put that right this season.
Despite the many personal difficulties 2017 threw at him including the devastating and tragic loss of the club captain, Ryan McBride, his uncle and Godfather, John ‘Jap’ Sweeney and his former coach at Tottenham Hotspur, Ugo Ehiogu, the classy midfielder went on to enjoy his best season in a Derry City shirt.
Personally I’d like to go on a cup run and get to a cup final this year. I haven’t won anything since I got here and players always want to win trophies.Aaron McEneff
Alongside Barry McNamee, McEneff surprisingly proved to be the biggest goal threat, netting nine goals in the league and one against FC Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League, earning him a coveted spot in the PFAI Team of the Year and a ‘Player of the Year’ nominee.
His superb form throughout a consistent campaign also reportedly attracted interest from Dundalk which was rebuffed by the club and Kenny Shiels who regards him as a key part of what he’s trying to build at Brandywell.
And while McEneff is keeping his expectations in check given the significant turnaround in personnel at the Lone Moor Road club, he has targeted a prolonged run in a cup competition and perhaps even a trophy as he looks to win his first piece of silverware in senior football.
“Personally I’d like to go on a Cup run and get to a cup final this year. I haven’t won anything since I got here and players always want to win trophies. I mean everyone wants to win leagues but realistically if we get a top four finish and qualify for Europe again, we’ll set our targets around that and then hopefully push on and you never know what will happen in terms of winning the league.”
The loss of his influential midfield partner, Barry McNamee to champions, Cork City was softened by the return of Nicky Low who himself had enjoyed a fine debut campaign in League of Ireland football, but McEneff accepts he has now become an integral part of Shiels’ team this year.
And despite the burden which comes with experience and expectations, the Cornshell man is embracing the challenge and is hoping to match or improve on his double figure tally set last season.
“I set myself the target to get into double figures at the start of the season,” said McEneff. “I’ve set myself personal targets again this year and all you can do is try and meet them or better them.
“I think every player has their own targets and this year, being a bit more experienced around the league and knowing what way things go, based on last year, it’s only going stand me in good stead.”
And he’s happy to carry the added pressure on his young shoulders this season. “I’m still young but with a lot of new players coming in and with the age of the squad it’s probably one of the youngest in the league so having a number of games under your belt in terms of experience can’t do me any harm. I’m still learning and looking to learn every day which is important for me and the team.”
Last season brought plenty of challenges as City set up camp in Maginn Park, Buncrana, 15 miles away from its traditional home. Ahead of the new Airtricity League kick-off, and despite the delays in the long awaited return to Brandywell Stadium, there’s an air of optimism surrounding the club as fans look forward to getting back to the iconic venue.
And there’s certainly been some welcome changes to the Lone Moor Road venue with the almost archaic, freezing cold changing rooms being replaced by a modern, comfortable and heated space which will no doubt be welcomed by visiting teams.
The new top of the range synthetic surface has also been welcomed by McEneff who believes it will suit Derry’s style of play and he’s excited about the first home fixture, likely to be against Dundalk on March 2nd.
“It’s getting exciting at this stage. All the boys have been working hard these last few weeks. Getting out there on the Brandywell for the first time for most of the boys I’m sure is exciting and they will be looking forward to next week.
“I was on it last week but I wasn’t in the changing room or anything and it’s a really good job. The changing rooms are a good size both home and away. Obviously the pitch still has to be done yet but it’s looking well.
“The old Brandywell we had two changing rooms and the squad had to split in half between the both of them because there wasn’t enough room. But you’ll fit the whole squad in the one changing room and obviously it’s nice and modern which is good.
“The pitch looks massive out there. Obviously it’s not completely finished but we’ve been training on the 3G and with the brand of football we want to play it can only benefit us I think with the technical players in the team.
“If you’re a team that likes to get the ball down and move it quickly then it can only be a good thing. It’s also the highest standard of synthetic pitch that’s out there we’re told so it can only be good for us to move teams about and play good, quick attacking football.”
It’s been a disruptive pre-season due to the inclement weather and a build-up of injuries but McEneff is confident the club will be ready to hit the ground running, starting with Friday’s tough opener against newly promoted Waterford.
“Every year has been the same since I’ve been here. Games are called off and boys are breaking down with injuries because you’re training on mud baths. But you have to get on with it. Every team is in Ireland so everybody is in the same situation. To be honest you’re just looking forward to the first match and everything is geared towards that.
“We could be brilliant in pre-season and then lose the first five games and everyone would be on a downer and it wouldn’t count for anything.
Or we could be awful in pre-season and go on to win our first five games. It just matters when we go into the first competitive game and I’m sure all the boys will be ready for that.”