Five candidates for Derry City's vacant captain's role
AS BARRY McNamee edges closer to a move to Finn Harps, his decision not to return to Derry City Football Club has naturally got fans asking, ‘Who will be the club’s next captain?’
Derry boss, Declan Devine is currently running his eye over the midfielder’s potential replacement as he decides who to hand the coveted armband to ahead of the imminent 2020 SSE Airtricity Premier Division campaign.
The role of captain is an interesting one and when it comes to considering one there are several factors or attributes a manager will look for. Experience, natural talent, honours, seniority, presence, leadership, maturity; can they inspire players around them when the going gets tough?
Derry City has been blessed with some terrific, inspirational captains down through the years with the likes of the late Ryan McBride, Barry Molloy, Gerard Doherty, Kevin Deery and Peter Hutton among the most recent. They all brought their own special attributes or personalities to the team and McNamee, while quiet and unassuming, led by example with his professionalism, composure and ability.
Some might not attach the same significance to the role as they perhaps once did with the game changing so much but it remains a position of some importance and prestige at the Brandywell club.
A few individuals have been thrown into the discussion so far, including the most obvious candidates, Conor McCormack and last season’s vice skipper, Ciaron Harkin.
Peter Cherrie is another player who has a big presence at the club and with his experience and pedigree he ticks a lot of boxes but, personally, I don’t like goalkeepers wearing the captains’ armband as they can’t always impact the game proficiently from the goalmouth. Devine, of course, was a hugely successful goalkeeper himself during his playing career so may feel differently!
But if we can discount Cherrie, who are the other potential candidates? I’m prepared to put my neck on the line and put forward five players I believe could fill the role.
Call me old fashioned but I like to have a defender or central midfielder as a captain as they are usually at the centre of the action.
As mentioned above, McCormack is the obvious candidate as he brings with him a wealth of experience, a winning mentality and a drive to succeed in his second spell at the club. The Carlingford man will surely become an integral part of any success the Candy Stripes bring to Foyleside this year such is his versatility and energy.
And no doubt the diminutive midfield man will be one of the strong candidates for Derry captain. He’s a natural leader and isn’t afraid to bark orders to his teammates on the pitch. He’s been there, done it and worn the t-shirt having captained Cork City during a hugely successful period on Leeside. McCormack will help inspire the younger attacking players around him and the fact he’s signed a two-year deal gives him a leg up when it comes to picking someone who has the team’s best interests at heart.
Next up I’ve selected Ciaron Coll as a man who has experience playing a captains’ role having inherited the position at Finn Harps from club legend, Kevin McHugh. He was undoubtedly one of Devine’s best signings last year and he made quite a few.
A model of consistency and professionalism, the left-back was an ever present in the team and led by example. While McCormack is a vocal leader, Coll quietly goes about his business but he’s always a man who puts himself forward to perform the club’s off-field duties and made official appearances at various engagements during the close season - sometimes a thankless task, but he always did so with a smile and without complaint. Coll is a favourite amongst City fans, winning ‘Player of the Season’ in 2019, and would be a popular appointment.
New signing, Conor Clifford, of course, assumed the captain’s role in the recent Billy Kee Memorial Cup victory over Institute and joked afterwards it would be unfair to strip him of those duties now that he lifted his first piece of silverware! In the same interview he said it would be a ‘privilege’ to captain ‘such a great club’ as Derry City so he would no doubt take the role extremely seriously. Devine is obviously considering the player as a candidate and so he must be given serious consideration.
He’s a talented player who hasn’t yet reached his full potential but hopefully we get to see his quality on a regular basis this season. It was his natural talent which secured a move to Chelsea as a youngster and he went on to captain the London Blues to the FA Youth Cup win in 2010. He will prove a popular figure at the club but would the added pressure of being club captain be unfair on him as he looks to establish himself as a new arrival? We’ll wait and see if he gets the responsibility on a permanent basis.
Ciaron Harkin is the only player remaining at the club who wore the armband last season. McNamee and fellow vice captain, Greg Sloggett have both moved on and homegrown talent, Harkin remains a larger than life presence which defies his tender age and slight frame.
He has looked like a man on a mission during pre-season and was superb in the first half of the 3-2 win against ‘Stute at Brandywell last week, setting up Walter Figueira for his first goal before his thunderous strike into the top corner in the second half to make it 3-1. Like Coll, Harkin has been more than accommodating when it comes to representing the club during his days off.
He knows what the club means to its fan base having been a diehard supporter of his hometown himself, famously travelling to away matches with the Brandywell Pride Supporters Club in recent years.
He’s tenacious, a midfield warrior who will snipe at the heels of the opposition and often fronts up when others shirk away. He has a hunger for success and energy to burn and epitomised the desire to succeed and workmanship which served Derry so well last season. His all action style at the heart of the engine room makes him an ideal candidate.
Derry’s leading centre-back candidate for me, is Ally Gilchrist. Eoin Toal has all the attributes of a captain and indeed captains N. Ireland U21s, but is still very young and it wouldn’t be fair to put such added responsibility on his young shoulders just now. Gilchrist is headstrong and leads from the back.
There is a romantic notion that the captain should be either a feisty, snapping midfield battler like Harkin or the rock-hard immovable force in the heart of the defence. And I reckon Gilchrist can fit the mould of the latter. Again he oozes professionalism and has all the hallmarks of a captain. He’s just 24 years of age which is sometimes hard to believe given his maturity both on and off the pitch and his leadership qualities. Does he have the presence and organisational skills of the likes of Peter Hutton who demanded respect at the heart of the City defence?
Surely he’s a strong candidate for the position as he has been a calm, composed figure at the back.
It’s a difficult choice for Devine and his management team but he knows his players’ characters better than anyone and he’s fortunate to have such a selection headache going into the new season. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I’d select McCormack given his experience, winning mentality and his organisational skills.
And while there’s plenty of strong candidates for leading the Candy Stripes in 2020, as Clifford suggested recently, there needs to be numerous captains on the pitch and not just the man wearing the armband.