GERARD DOHERTY will mark his 10th consecutive season at Derry City with the customary testimonial but the experienced goalkeeper is quick to point out to anyone who listens that he’s far from finished!
It’s a celebration and reward for a decade of outstanding, unbroken service to his hometown club but it’s no swansong. He’s enjoyed a distinguished career but at 36, he’s not contemplating hanging up the gloves.
In fact the former Derby County and TNS custodian believes the best is yet to come as he, not only reaches peak form, but thrives on his new role as captain and the responsibility which comes with it.
He’s still producing match-saving displays for the Candy Stripes, evidenced by his player of the month nominations for March and April. The reflexes are as sharp as ever and he’s still regarded amongst his peers as one of the best with last season’s form earning him the No. 1 spot in the PFAI’s Team of the Year.
However, as the game’s changed so has his and Doherty’s distribution with his feet and out of his hands is undoubtedly the best in the league for a goalkeeper! He claims he’s enjoying his football more than ever now under the guidance of Kenny Shiels and the ‘high risk’ passing game he’s deployed - a style which pits the Creggan man as a pivotal figure.
“I’m enjoying my football more than ever,” he declared.
For a long time the only thing I ever wanted to do was play for Derry City and nothing has really changed in that regard, I’ve just got a bit older but I’m nowhere near finished and will be playing for another few years at least.Gerard Doherty
And there’s no doubting his passion as anyone who witnessed his celebrations at the end of the 1-0 victory over Bohemians at Dalymount in February can testify after he had saved an 85th minute Kevin Devaney penalty to earn the club’s first three points of the season.
He has some magical memories to reminisce about but, surprisingly, his best games are those when he is merely a spectator.
“There are games I haven’t had to make a save and those are my favourites because you’re organising and people are listening to your advice and cutting out attacks.
“I’ve come to appreciate that side of the game. Kenny and Hugh Harkin give me the license to organise on the pitch and I feel I do that well. It’s a good part of my game and I get satisfaction from that.
“It’s exciting football everyone wants to watch and the credit goes to Kenny for giving us the chance to play like that. I know it’s high risk at times but you have to take the good with the bad. If you be brave, you get the rewards.
“It’s probably different for me as I can see it all happen in front of me and can get a bit more information out. I can see a lot of other things developing. That comes with experience as well and you cannot be afraid to give that information out.”
Gerard’s made a total of 421 appearances - the most by any City keeper by some distance - and last Friday’s credible stalemate against champions Cork City was his 169th clean sheet for the club! Like all defensive-minded players, Gerard prides himself on those clean sheets and upon his return to Brandywell in the 2008 season under Stephen Kenny he kept an incredible 25 clean sheets which still stands as a club record for a single season.
The ever-present shot-stopper has captained the Candy Stripes 85 times and his 421 appearances is only bettered by four players in the history of the club - Peter Hutton (663), Eddie McCallion (537), Paul Curran (518) and Sean Hargan (429), whose total should be surpassed by the end of July.
His Brandywell career actually began almost 20 years ago when he made his debut on August 16th, 1998 against Sligo Rovers in the League Cup in a Felix Healy managed team which boasted Liam Coyle, Gary Beckett and James Keddy. He made five appearances that season (1998/99) before moving to Derby County. An eight year spell in the Welsh Premier League with The New Saints (TNS) where he won three league titles, one Welsh Cup and one League Cup, also saw him earn plaudits from former Liverpool and current Newcastle boss, Rafa Benitez who lauded his performances in the two legged defeat to the Anfield club in a European tie.
For family reasons, Gerard and his wife, Edele felt it was time to come home and it was in 2008 he agreed to sign for a second spell at Derry City, this time under Stephen Kenny. The rest, as they say, is history.
“At the time Edele moved over for a year and she was working away and it wasn’t fair at times as I was away for a lot of games,” recalled Gerard. “It was hard for her to adapt but she stuck it out for a long time. It got to the point when we both thought it would be the right move for us going back home and I had always wanted to come back and play for Derry. It didn’t matter what stage of my career I was at. Luckily it happened quickly enough.
“I think it was Decky Devine at the time when Stephen was coming back as manager said he was interested in bringing me back and I jumped at the chance. I fought it out for my position every single year and that’s what I’ve been doing since.”
One club men are a dying breed in football and the testimonial match, once an annual fixture for clubs, has become a thing of the past. And while Gerard enjoyed spells across-Channel, he’s been a proud servant to the Lone Moor Road club during the past 10 years. Indeed, it was another ex-City skipper, and former Derby County player, Barry Molloy who was the last player to play for 10 straight years at the Brandywell.
For some players it’s a chance to finish their career with a nest egg. A nice little earner to slip into the back pocket, a pat on the back for a job well done. Gerard isn’t one for bragging about time served and he’s using part of the monies raised in the upcoming events to help support a charity close to his heart - the ‘Circle of Support’ for autistic children like his five year-old son, Cian.
“I wouldn’t be one to run around and shout about things like this but it hasn’t happened at this club for a while, a player doing 10 years unbroken service,” he explained.
“Last year I wasn’t really thinking about it but Edele and a few other people were asking about it. I just like to keep things low key but it’s something I’m really proud of too.
“For a long time the only thing I ever wanted to do was play for Derry City and nothing has really changed in that regard, I’ve just got a bit older but I’m nowhere near finished and will be playing for another few years at least.”
He proved an instant success upon his return in 2008, helping the team to an emphatic League Cup Final triumph over Wexford Youths but he also experienced the heartbreak of a controversial FAI Cup final loss to Bohemians on penalties the same year.
The following season was one of the most difficult for Derry’s homegrown players as the revelation of dual contracts resulted in the club’s expulsion from the League of Ireland. In 2010 the club, which was banished to the First Division, regrouped and clinched immediate promotion back to the top tier as champions with a squad largely made up of footballers from the north west.
“The year we were in the First Division, the amount of Derry players we had in that team that gave everything to get the club back into the Premier Division - that was a serious push that year and it was mostly local boys. It was a proud year for everyone, myself included. The likes of big Parky (Stephen Parkhouse) and what Mark (Farren) went through that year. We’ve been through a lot in 10 years if you go over it all.”
He regards the 2012 FAI Cup win among his most cherished successes in football and it was an emotional November date which will certainly live long in the memory for Gerard.
On the morning of the FAI’s showpiece Gerard’s place in the Derry team was in doubt, unbeknown to the majority of supporters. He had stayed behind in Derry to bid his final farewell to his grandfather, Jim McDaid (86) who was being buried that morning in St Mary’s Church, Creggan.
Remarkably, he arranged to be chauffeured to the Aviva Stadium, making a mad dash to Dublin to meet up with his teammates and manager, Declan Devine as he kept a private promise he had made with his family. He arrived during the pre-match warm-up and went on to play a pivotal role. His long punt upfield was flicked into the path of Rory Patterson who planted the ball in the net to hand Derry a 3-2 extra-time win over St Pat’s.
He dedicated the thrilling victory - Derry’s fifth FAI Cup success - to his grandfather afterwards and rates the experience as the ‘proudest moment of my career’.
A photograph taken by ex-’Journal’ photographer, Lorcan Doherty in the dressing room afterwards captured the moment beautifully. The raw emotions and the contrast of midfielder Molloy’s unbridled joy with Gerard, who sat beside him looking emotionally drained and deep in thought.
“Everything was offered up for Granda, but I’ve never played in a game like that before,” he admitted in a post-match interview. “I found myself openly crying during the match. Especially after St. Pat’s had equalised with only minutes to go. But it was nothing to do with their equaliser, it got me thinking about him again and at that stage I felt I had let him down. It was a terrible feeling and I couldn’t stop crying.”
And as he looks back now six years later, it remains a special moment.
“The 2012 FAI Cup Final was probably the highlight of everything, getting my hands on a trophy and lifting it under the circumstances, it was probably the proudest moment of my career.”
It’s been a roller-coaster of emotions during the past 10 seasons which has brought about many ups and downs. He’s been the man many younger players looked up to as the club tragically lost both Mark Farren and Ryan McBride.
After Ryan’s sudden death in March 2017, there was never any doubt who would pick up the captain’s armband. There was only one man for the job and in the living room of the Doherty home in Rathlin Drive a picture of his good friend and former captain still takes pride of place.
“It was just a natural progression as I was vice-captain anyway,” said Gerard matter-of-factly when he was appointed skipper. But he’s taken on the role with some distinction and he believes he’s growing into it.
“It’s something that was out of everyone’s control. It’s something I’ve taken to. You need someone with a reasonably level head in there when things are going wrong or going right to keep things balanced. With having a bit more experience I can do that and I’m getting to grips with it.”
He has bags of faith in team boss, Shiels and the current squad and he expects the Candy Stripes to challenge for silverware this season.
“I’m still ambitious. I think we can go a long way with this squad. I have a lot of good memories and a lot of bad defeats in finals as well. That comes from wanting to win so much with your home club.
“It’s strange. It definitely doesn’t seem like 10 years. It’s been like the blink of an eye but at the minute I feel like I could do another 10 no bother,” he smiled.
Gerard’s Testimonial Committee has confirmed the first of just three events that will mark the City skipper’s decade of service to the Brandywell club.
A Casino night will be held in Pitchers on Friday, June 1st immediately after the Candy Stripes’ home game against Sligo Rovers.
Admission is by ticket (priced £10) and these are now available from committee members- Edele Doherty, Karen Pyne, Gerald Melarkey, Andrew Cassidy, Tony McBride, Kevin McLaughlin and Lawrence Moore.
Tickets also entitle players to their first $200 of ‘chips’ and there will be some outstanding prizes for those finishing in the top three places.
Derry City players and management will be in attendance at this event and your support would be warmly welcomed. Gerard has already confirned that COS- who provide support for families affected by autism- will be a beneficiary in his testimonial year.