THE surprise sacking of Martin O’Neill as manager of Sunderland couldn’t have come at a worse time for Derry City Football Club, the “Journal” can reveal this morning.
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
In fact, prominent members of the Brandywell club’s Board of Directors had reached advanced stages in their negotiations to bring the Premiership club to the Brandywell for what would have been a high profile friendly fixture this summer.
And it’s also understood that O’Neill had given his backing to the proposal and that the powers that be at the Stadium of Light were keen to come to Northern Ireland as part of the club’s pre-season campaign, given that they have regularly visited Dublin when under the chairmanship of former Republic of Ireland international striker, Niall Quinn.
While O’Neill had given his blessing to a return to Brandywell Stadium having already led Celtic here in the past, Sunderland hoped to cement their relationship with Derry City following the transfer of the “Candy Stripes” star winger, James McClean, back in 2011.
Confirming that negotiations had taken place, Derry City Chairman, Mr. Philip O’Doherty, said he hoped to re-establish contact with the Premiership club despite the fact that there had been a recent managerial change.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed that negotiations with Sunderland, regarding a pre-season friendly at the Brandywell in August, have been suspended but, then again, that was predictable given that the club had opted to change its manager,” said Mr. O’Doherty last night.
“But we haven’t given up hope of securing a friendly fixture. As a Board we have decided to take a backward step in relation to the issue in an effort to let things settle at Sunderland.
“Hopefully, the negotiations will be re-established over the next few days once the new manager starts to settle in,” added the Derry chairman.
New “Mackems” boss, Paolo di Canio also has an interesting connection with the Brandywell club. In fact, the Italian made his final appearance for Glasgow Celtic following their surprise defeat by Derry City in the Carlsberg tournament which was staged at Lansdowne Road back in the summer of 1997.
Derry stunned Celtic when winning 3-2 to qualify for the final thanks to goals from Gary Beckett, an own goal by Celtic full-back, Tom Boyd and a last minute winner by Ryan Coyle - an avid Celtic fan who failed to kick a ball at senior level after scoring that particuarly goal!
Derry were defeated 2-0 by Newcastle United in the final, Kenny Dalglish’s having overcome the challenge of PSV Eindhoven in the second semi-final.
Meanwhile, Mr. O’Doherty said he was delighted with Derry’s positive start to the new season, insisting that those who were regular visitors to the Brandywell were getting “good value for money.”
The chairman, who was also delighted with the early season attendance figures, said he hoped the home support would increase as the season progresses.
“The more people we have watching games at home, the greater benefit for the club but that’s not just financially,” declared Mr. O’Doherty.
“I think it’s very important to have a vociferous home support which helps pressurise our opponents and, as Declan Devine said at the start of the campaign, it’s vital that we improve our home record as last year’s results fell short of what we had expected.
“But since the season kicked-off, few would argue that we’ve got off to an excellent start, despite facing a few tough games. Hopefully, the performances of the players will continue and that our attendance figures will also increase as additional few hundred home supporters would go a long way to safeguarding the long term future of the football club.”