Paddy McCourt embraces Derry City's new model for success
‘PADDY McCOURT has the most important job at the club!’
Those are the words of Derry City chairman Philip O’Doherty who has tasked the former Celtic star with transforming the Brandywell club’s Youth Academy.
No pressure then! But it’s not just the youth structures that make up the hours in the day for McCourt. He’s involved in almost every strand of the football club.
It’s a multi-faceted role the club’s Technical Director has been assigned but the ex-Derry City playmaker is relishing the challenge.
He combines his parental duties as father to three young children, with the responsibility of overseeing Derry City Football Club, liaising daily with Academy coaches and first team boss, Declan Devine.
It’s a long term project and he can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of its labour over the course of the next few years.
“I really enjoy going to work every day, I love working with the different strands of the football club in terms of meeting with the Board which during the last year has been over Zoom,” said the Shantallow man.
“Also keeping in touch with the academy coaches and more recently because our academy teams have been playing so little football over the past year, I’ve been working closely with Declan in terms of restructuring the squad, restructuring recruitment and trying to build a template the club want to work off over the next three to five years and then we will have a look to see how that’s going.”
New directives and policies from the club’s Board of Directors have provided a clear vision as well as the template for how the club wants future transfer business to be conducted and the youth academy developed. It’s a vision McCourt and Devine have bought into but the pair have always been strong advocates of developing emerging talent.
And while the ‘Derry Pele’ believes the new model of younger players and longer term contracts might not bring instant success, it’s an approach which should ultimately bring stability and self-sustainability.
“If it’s going well and there’s success, and sustainable success, then you obviously continue that and try to make it better. For now, we’re in the early stages of a different plan that the club is trying to implement and it’s my job to do that as best I can.”
McCourt and Devine shared criticism for failures in the transfer market last season. James Akintunde and Cameron McJannett proved exceptions to the rule as the likes of Jake Dunwoody, Ibrahim Meite, Adam Hammill, Tim Nilsen, Moussa Bakayoko, Adam Liddle and Walter Figueira proved short term fixes.
That’s been the trend for the club for several seasons but Devine has tried bringing in some of the best of the Irish League and young, talented local players with only mixed success.
Indeed, McCourt believes this new approach, considering they’ve had just one transfer window to reshape the team this year, will take to evolve.
“We can look at last year and say it was just last year but the recruitment has been the same at Derry over the past 10 or 12 years. The market Derry have always went into was for Scottish players or lower league English players and then a mixture of good League of Ireland and one or two Irish League players.
“Last year it didn’t work. In previous years it has worked so it’s difficult to look at it as a model that wasn’t successful because sometimes it has been.
“What we found as a football club is that it isn’t successful over a long period of time. Players come in for a season, they do well and then they move on. Players come for a season and don’t do well, you release them. That’s what the model was.
“Now the model is hopefully going to change to more of a long term model with younger players on longer contracts to try and build. It’s something that might not be successful right away but it gives the club stability to keep growing and building something.
“Declan and I have only really had one window to take this new model forward but Declan is really happy with the squad of players he has at his disposal at the minute. Again, it’s going to take time. The club has set out a clear pathway they want to go down. It’s at the early stages of that but we’re hopeful it will be successful over time.”
The current team has an average age of just 23 which can bring its advantages; ambition, motivation and fitness amongst them. And while it’s sprinkled with experienced pros, McCourt expects mistakes to be made this year. It’s how the players respond to those setbacks which will determine the success of the season.
“We have a young squad. It’s got a good profile in terms of younger players. The problem you have with a young squad is that it lacks experience and there will be mistakes. There will be games when maybe you’re caught out. But this is along term project that we’re all heading towards and heading in the one direction.
“Getting ‘Parky’ back on a three year deal was an excellent coup for the club. He brings everything you want in terms of workrate, honesty, he’s proven he can score goals in the league.
“Danny Lafferty has been a great signing. He came into the group and is really composed in terms of his personality. He’s a good influence on the younger boys which we’ll need along with Ciaran Coll and Darren Cole.
“There is a good mixture of experience and youth. If you go through the average age of our squad, it’s a young squad. It will be fit and energetic but we will be counting on the older pros to bring that experience in certain games.”
McCourt explains Devine was forced to get imaginative when it came to the rebuilding and he believes the club have done well considering the restraints.
“We’ve got Will Patching on an initial six month loan from Dundalk. We would love to extend that. We really tried to get him here on a permanent basis but he’s that highly thought of at Dundalk they didn’t want to let him go too early.
“Will Fitzgerald is another with a really good profile. He’s 21, an Ireland U21 international. He’s had a few injury setbacks but he’s worked really hard to get himself in great condition and he’s one we’re really excited to have a look at this year.
“We’ve had to be imaginative with the budget which has been cut. We’ve brought players in with a different profile who haven’t been as expensive as those in the past. “The players who have come here have a point to prove.
Derry has always been a club where it’s given a lot of players over the years an opportunity to prove how good they are.
"This is no different to this year. A lot of the players who have come in have also come through the academy which is a huge plus, even the likes of Ciaron Harkin who was an academy player and has been away and came back.
“Brendan Barr, Caolan McLaughlin, Patrick Ferry, Ronan Boyce, Jack Lemoignan, Oran Kennedy, all lads who are training with us every day trying to become professional footballers and we’re hoping we can give them the opportunity to do that.
“Ronan Boyce and Patrick Ferry have both signed two year deals, as has Jack Lemoignan, so there’s an opportunity now at the club for young players which is exciting and we’re just hoping one or two of them step up to the plate and grasp it over the next year or two.”
When asked what he would consider to be a successful season for Derry City in 2021, McCourt said he hoped European qualification would be achievable. His biggest hope though is that the fans return to Brandywell Stadium.
“It’s very early stages. Declan is really happy with the squad but it’s going to take time. A successful season for Derry City is always based on that fourth spot European qualification. Whether that’s achievable or not this year, I don’t know. We’ll take it as it comes.
“One thing I know is the manager is really happy with his squad and the players are really excited about this season and seem to enjoy coming into their work.
“It’s a good time and hopefully by mid-season we start getting fans back. We absolutely missed them last year.
“The Brandywell, when it is rocking, is as good as any stadium I’ve ever played in and opposition teams sensed that when they came up.
“Going back to the nights I was playing, when Shels and Bohs came up to Brandywell, there were five or six thousand fans, there was no better atmosphere,” said the former N. Ireland international who strutted his stuff at Parkhead during his heyday.
“We really missed the fans. I suppose all clubs did but us especially and if we can get them back then I’d say that will go a long way in determining where we finish this season.”