Derry City boss, Roddy Collins, called me a “snake” after I knocked the ball past him and fired a shot at goal but my moment of glory came after the cordial Dubliner put the ball between my legs and told me my control was “brutal”.
Along with a few other journalists from Derry and Dublin, I was invited to take part in a special training session with the Derry City team. I jumped at the chance - not literally, of course.
I turn 32 next week and I couldn’t remember feeling so excited and terrified at the same time. I’ve spent the best part of eight years reporting on Derry City games. Sometimes I’ve praised the players for their skill and guile but on other occasions I would wag the critic’s finger when they had an off day. With this sentiment in mind, I was worried certain individuals would use the training session as an opportunity to settle old scores.
I texted both assistant manager, Peter ‘Pizza’ Hutton and midfielder, Barry Molloy the night before.
‘Pizza’ told me to bring my shin-pads and Molloy promised he would look after me - I couldn’t decide which reply terrified me the most.
I arrived at the Vale Centre on time. Got changed into my training gear which included a Barcelona training top. I don’t and never will do Barcelona justice - my pet dog looks more like Lionel Messi than I do.
The Vale Centre is superb. Derry City boss Roddy Collins and Peter Hutton had been telling me how good it was but in order to understand what they meant I had to see it for myself.
The staff, the facilities, the changing rooms even the coffee was all top notch - it’s easy to see why Collins made sure his team would use the place for pre-season training.
Roddy then met us all and took us to the boardroom where he and player Rory Patterson were about to welcome their latest special signing.
In a moment of pure class, Derry City welcomed little five year-old Oliver Dickey to the Vale Centre.
Oliver has a type of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia which means that his legs are very tight and he can be in a lot of pain.
Oliver’s parents, Charlene and Neil, accompanied him on his special day and soon after entering the boardroom he was presented by Patterson with his very own Derry City jersey with the name ‘Oliver’ on the back. Patterson also presented Oliver with a Derry City top signed by all of the team.
Oliver needs an operation to help him walk. His mum Charlene said they need to raise £60,000 to take their son to America for the operation and thanked Rory Patterson and the entire Derry City team for raising awareness.
Oliver and his family then braved the rain and made their way outside to the football pitches where they met the rest of the team.
All of the players donated to Oliver’s fund and many of them posed for photographs before he and his parents were whisked away in a limousine.
After Oliver left, the Derry City players’ eyes fixed upon us journalists like lions would when eying up their prey. We were going to have to play the game and if it meant being embarrassed then so be it.
One of the first things we had to do was take part in one of their training drills.
I must state for the record that my weekly exercise consists of five a-side indoor football on a Sunday morning when I am often hung-over and perhaps the odd walk along the river during the week. Are you feeling my sense of dread yet?
Gary Ferry (The Derry News), Eric White (BBC Radio Foyle) and Kevin McLaughlin (The Sentinel) showed tremendous courage as they went first.
I had no clue what I was supposed to do but Patrick McEleney explained the process to me and Rory Patterson also offered to help.
In the end I did the drill with Derry’s new signing, Cliff Byrne and thankfully I lived to tell the tale.
I then asked Roddy Collins if he would mind having his photo taken with me.
I had to dribble with the ball and Roddy had to tackle me whilst photographer, Phil Gamble snapped away. What actually happened was, Roddy got the ball off me, put it through my legs and told me my ball control was brutal. It’s not everyday the Derry City boss nutmegs me.
It was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire because soon after, us journalists were put into the middle of the centre circle and all of the Derry City players surrounded.
The aim of the exercise was for the Derry City players to keep the ball. If a journalist touched the ball, they had to swap places with the player.
I got the ball off Barry Molloy, to which he offered the excuse “I told you I would look after you”.
The players had had their fun and it was a case of back to work.
Us journalists then hit a few penalties with BBC Radio Foyle’s Eric White coming out on top.
We finished the day off with a small six a-side match against the staff, including Roddy Collins and Peter Hutton.
The staff beat us 3-2 but I scored perhaps the greatest goal of my life but wouldn’t you know it, Kevin McDaid, who was filming the game for iCandy had stopped recording. Thanks Kev!
But at least I didn’t need the shin-pads!
To donate to the Help Wee Oliver Dickey Walk fund visit www.justgiving.com/helpweeoliverwalk