Ex Chelsea youth Conor Clifford believes he's finally found his home at Derry City
CONOR Clifford reckons the League of Ireland haven't seen the best of him yet and the Dubliner claims to be hungrier than ever for success with new club, Derry City.
The 28 year-old signed a one year deal with the Brandywell club following 18 months with St Patrick's Athletic and admits the lure of playing in the Europa League again next season was a major factor in making the move north.
An FA Youth Cup winner with Chelsea in 2010 and former Republic of Ireland U21 international, there's no doubting his talent and the ball-playing midfielder wants to fulfil his potential on Foyleside and prove some of the doubters wrong.
"People haven't seen the best of me, definitely not!," he claimed. "I'm in a good place. I felt last season I had a reasonably good season and I'm coming into this season hungry and can't wait to prove a few people wrong and get going."
Since returning from England where he represented 10 different clubs including Chelsea, Leicester City, Notts County and Southend, Clifford spent a season with Dundalk and a brief spell at Limerick before joining St Pat's. However, he hopes he's finally found his home and much needed stability at Brandywell.
"I needed a home," he explained. "I thought I had that last year but one thing or another happened at the club behind the scenes and stuff. I know this is a real family town, a family club and I wanted to be a part of it.
"I know it's definitely the right decision moving here. It's a long way from home. It's three hours away but I'm willing to come here and put my head down and give my all for this club and hopefully bring success. A good run in Europe would be great for the fans but my main aim is to get my head down and I still have some good years left in me, I know that. I'm hungry more than ever to prove people wrong.
"I can't wait to get started. I feel, since I've come home, I've done well but I haven't hit the heights that I know I can do. I really feel it's my time now."
Derry fans will no doubt remember the sensational strike Clifford netted against the Candy Stripes at Richmond Park in October 2018 as St Pat's put the visitors to the sword in a 5-0 drubbling which ultimately signaled the end of Kenny Shiels' three year reign.
He certainly has goals in his locker and he's hoping he can chip in with plenty from midfield next season.
"I'm hoping I can add goals from midfield. I'll be working so hard to do that. That's what I want to bring and I'll give everything. No fan can ever criticise me for not working. I'll pull my sleeves up and work and work for the team and hopefully I can chip in with as many goals as I can. I'm sure I will. If I get a good preseason and get my head down, I'll be raring to go"
He knows fellow new signing Walter Figueira from his days at Chelsea and is looking forward to playing alongside City skipper, Barry McNamee. While Paddy McCourt who trained alongside Clifford while at Dundalk for pre-season in 2017 was influential in bringing him to Derry, the player believes Declan Devine is the man to get the best out of him.
"I'm really looking forward to playing with Barry McNamee," he said. "I think he's an excellent player and I think we could do well together. I know Walter too from when we were at Chelsea. He's a few years younger than me but he's a great lad. I was speaking to him and he can't wait to get going as well so we're looking forward to the season.
"Harry Kenny was great for me when I was at St Pat's. He has good man-management skills and I know from speaking with a few of the lads Decky is the same. I heard he's a tough man but he'll put his arm around you as well and get the best out of you and I know he's going to get the best out of me."
He got his first taste of European football with the Saints last year as they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Swedish side, Norrköping in the first qualifying round and he admits the fact Derry pipped Pat's to the Europa League spot and fourth place last season was a major factor in his decision to join the Candy Stripes.
"It was my first time playing in the Europa League against Norrköping and they're a good side and the experience of playing in front of a massive crowd like that, you only want more. Derry have that this year and the town is going to be buzzing for European nights down here, I can't wait for those games to start."
So what are his expectations for the 2020 campaign?
"Hopefully we can challenge again for Europe and maybe win a cup, why not? It was the ambition of the club which sold it to me. I was speaking to Paddy (McCourt) a lot and Declan and it's just the ambition of the club, he reiterated. "Obviously Derry are in Europe this year and it's one of the biggest clubs in Ireland, fanbase and everything about the club. I just wanted to be a part of it."
The signing of Clifford is a sign the club is going in the right direction according to manager, Devine who was surprised the Dubliner was available on a free transfer.
"I'm delighted to bring Conor Clifford to the club," he said. "Conor has a wealth of experience. He's at a great age, he's a great player, a talented guy and he'll definitely fit into the way we like to do things at the club. To say we're over the moon to get him is an understatement because we want to bring good people and good players to the club and we certainly feel we've ticked all the boxes on that front and he'll be a tremendous asset for us in terms of moving forward.
"He will bring leadership and an ability to help young players come through but he'll bring a lot of ability on the ball. He's a player who can contribute not only in terms of penetrative passes but a guy who can also get goals from midfield.
"One of the things I felt we could improve on last year was our goal tally from midfield and I think Conor Clifford can do that. He can easily fall into the way we want to play. I think the Brandywell will suit him. Playing for Derry City will suit him and he's another player we've had our eye on for a long time. I'm really surprised that he was available and the minute he was we wasted no time in touching base with him and we're absolutely delighted to get him over the line.
"When we came in last year we were able to attract a lot of good quality players. I think our performances last year have enabled us to go up a gear in terms of the type of players we've already brought to the club. We've brought Walter Figueira and now Conor Clifford. Two players who potentially last year wouldn't have been on our radar as we were starting from scratch.
"We're going to have a very strong nucleus from the squad from last year and when you can add players of this quality then I think we're sitting here in a much stronger position leading into Christmas.
"Last year we were sitting with five or six players. This year we're adding players of this quality to the group. Conor is not only a fantastic person but he's a guy who has had his highs and lows from a relatively young age and I think he will certainly enhance this football club."
With Figueira and now Clifford added to the squad, Devine expects to announce further signings imminently.
"The reality is we will only bring players to the club who are going to enhance us. You can expect things to move quicker over the next couple of weeks. We are in the market for quality players. "We have a lot of work done behind the scenes.
"It's relatively easy when you speak to someone like Cnor that is really keen to come. We didn't have to sell the place too much to him. He was a dream to work with in terms of convincing him to come here.
"Tonight is about Conor Clifford; The next couple of weeks will be about different aspects of the club where we need to strengthen. But don't forget where we were 12 months ago. We were in a very low place trying to attract players that weren't sure they wanted to come to a club that finished eighth out of 10.
"Today we're sitting here looking forward to European football and signing quality players like Conor Clifford and Walter Figueira. There's a lot more work to be done in the next couple of weeks."