If Kevin Deery wasn’t captain of Derry City Football Club he’d be cheering the team on from the stands at the Brandywell.
The 27 year-old midfielder is as passionate and loyal to Derry City as any of the club’s supporters and he would not hesitate in sacrificing himself and his captaincy if it meant that the Candy Stripes would win the FAI Cup when they take on St. Patrick’s Athletic in the final in Dublin next month.
“I am a Derry City supporter as well as a Derry City player. Some of my closest friends are Derry City supporters - this club is a massive part of my life,” says Deery.
It’s been a frustrating six months for the midfielder. In April, during Derry’s Setanta Cup Sports semi-final against Shamrock Rovers at the Brandywell he sustained an injury to his left knee; Deery was unable to kick a ball for his home town club until six weeks ago.
Deery came on as a substitute against Mervue United and UCD but has started in the two FAI cup games with Shelbourne and against Sligo Rovers and Dundalk in the league.
“Tuesday night [FAI Cup semi-final against Shelbourne] in Tolka Park was one of the nights you just love being a footballer.
“I am sure if you ask any Derry City fan about their memories of that night they’ll tell you that they were amongst the best all season.
“I know the attendances have not been great this season but the fact remains, Derry City is a massive football club and I think it’s great for the fans and the entire city that we have reached the FAI Cup final - I can’t wait.”
Deery was instrumental in Derry’s 3-0 win over Shelbourne on Tuesday night and his elation and excitement about the up and coming cup final is almost tangible.
Appreciating Deery’s pride and passion for his home town club is essential when trying to understand the “dark times” he experienced when he was unable to play for five months.
“I had such a great run in the team last season. I think I played 28 games last season and I after the disappointment of being injured for a big part of the season we were in the First Division I was really looking forward to 2012.
“I remember the night I injured my knee really well. I was going to challenge a Shamrock Rovers player for the ball and my knee hit the ground.
“I’d hurt my back too and I had taken a few painkillers at half-time to play on. Looking back now I wish I hadn’t have played on but everything is clearer with the benefit of hindsight.
“Because of the way I hit my knee on the ground it left my knee cap in a strange way. It wasn’t exactly sore but it was sliding around and because of it it meant that a bit of cartilage appeared. After talking with a specialist it was decided that I’d have to have a Patella stabilisation operation to put a stitch in my knee at the Ulster Independent Clinic in Belfast.”
It’s been a long five months of rehabilitation for Deery and the only tonic that could cure his malady was playing football matches.
Despite describing the period he was unable to play as difficult, it was instantly remedied when Deery came on against Mervue United in the FAI Cup last month.
“I have had my fair share of injuries throughout my career but this year was the worst by far.
“It was just really bad luck - I couldn’t believe that I was facing such a long time out again.
“If I am honest, I thought many times during the five months I was out whether football was for me anymore. I am only 27 years-old and I’d like to think that I have another five or six years ahead of me but when you have have a family to support you have to think about these things.
“The time I was out injured was really tough. They were dark times and sometimes it got me really down but I had my good days and bad days.
“When I was injured I helped out with the Old Library Trust in Creggan. I helped out with a few spin classes and worked on a few men’s health programmes. I am still doing it and it’s something that I am really interested in. I really want to continue on with my community work and maybe work with young people.
“But it’s amazing what getting back playing football can do for you. It’s what I have always loved doing - ever since I was a young boy and I when I am on the football pitch playing for Derry I just feel so comfortable.”
The 2012 Premier Division campaign will be one that everyone involved with Derry City will be keen to forget about but Deery said that it was frustrating and that he felt powerless when watching the team lose.
“I was delighted when Declan Devine got the job and to be honest I felt really bad that I wasn’t able to help him as much as I wanted to this season.
“Derry have had a lot of bad luck this season. Injuries have played a big part in why we haven’t been great in the league.
“Stewart Greacen is a top defender and would be sorely missed by any club and Rory Patterson is a proven goal scorer everywhere he has played. When players of this calibre are missing for long periods of time it’s only natural that their absence will impact upon results.
“Everyone knows that we have lost too many games at home this season but we have to put it behind us and concentrate on finishing our league campaign on a high.
“Our whole season could change on its head if we win the FAI Cup because that would also mean that European football would be back at the Brandywell too.
“There’s so much riding on our big final with St. Pat’s. It would be great for the fans and the players if we won but it would also be great for the city as a whole.
“If there’s one thing that Derry people know how to do it is to enjoy a cup final - Sunday November 4 will hopefully be a day to remember.”
One the surprises of the season has been the sudden impact of youngster Barry McNamee in midfield.
The 20 year-old has thrown down the gauntlet to the older, more experienced players in the team and that’s something Deery’s is excited about.
“It’s like yesterday that I was in the same place as where Barry McNamee is now. I was challenging players like Eamon Doherty for a place in the team.
“Barry’s been a breath of fresh air, he’s brought a lot out of myself and it’s been great to see him rewarded with a two year contract - he really deserves it.
“Barry is really nice fella, he’s quiet and keeps himself to himself and he really knows how to play football.
“It’s great to see a younger player keeping the rest of us on our toes because it means that we can’t take anything for granted.”
Should Derry win the cup against St. Patrick’s Athletic, Deery, as captain, would lift the trophy. However, during his five month absence he said he considered handing the captaincy back.
“I have never told anyone this but when I was injured I thought about asking if I could hand the captaincy back because I was out injured for so long.
“It would be great to be part of the team that wins the FAI Cup and should it come to it I have no problem in letting a few of the other players lift the trophy before I do.
“Being the captain of Derry City Football Club is a great honour but I would hand it over in the morning if it meant that we were guaranteed to win the cup next month.
“Nothing would make me happier than to help Derry win the FAI Cup for the team, the manager and the city.”