Patrick McEleney: 'I couldn't have asked for a better Brandywell return'
PATRICK 'Fats' McELENEY says he 'couldn't have asked for any more' from his long awaited Brandywell return in front of a capacity crowd on Friday night after an almost seven years absence.
The 29 year-old Shantallow man's return to his hometown club was greeted with much fanfare when announced last summer and when he limbered up to the sideline as a 54th minute substitute on Friday night, he received a raucous reception from the bumper home support.
So what was his overriding emotion as he prepared to make his first appearance at the venue as a home player since his departure for Dundalk in 2015?
"I wasn't nervous, more wanting to do well and wanting to win the game than nerves," he said. "I think nerves have sort of passed me now at this stage," he laughed. "I just wanted to do well and wanted the fans to witness good football.
"That was the best team in the league we played and we did quite well. I couldn't have asked for any more for my first game coming back here"
It was the biggest attendance at the Lone Moor Road venue in quite some time and McEleney likened the atmosphere to the EA Sports Cup Final where he guided Dundalk to a penalty shootout victory on Foyleside in 2019.
"It was some atmosphere," he explained. "Maybe playing against Derry in that Cup Final here was the most similar to that but that was amazing tonight. I think we'll need that every single game and we have to do our part but we will need the fans.
"I've played against it and it's a massive thing for Derry but we have to do our side of the bargain as well. We have to bring fans back to watch us and as long as we show 100 percent commitment then I think Derry fans will be here."
It wasn't long after his introduction that City were in front as a training ground move from a clever Will Patching free-kick involving Brandon Kavanagh resulted in Jack Byrne bringing down Jamie McGonigle inside the penalty area.
Patching dispatched the spotkick but Derry were forced to hold off a strong response from Rovers who equalised from a Dylan Watts free-kick with 17 minutes remaining. McEleney's quality, experience and composure on the ball helped with Derry's game management as Stephen Bradley tried to swing the game in his side's favour with the introduction of Watts, Graham Burke and Andy Lyons.
For the final eight minutes of the match 'Fats' actually found himself defending against his former Dundalk teammate Sean Gannon which wasn't an ideal scenario by any stretch.
However, Derry, like they've shown regularly under Ruaidhri Higgins, showed great character and when Jamie McGonigle netted in the 95th minute it was evidence that this side are never prepared to settle for a point no matter who the opposition may be. And that self-belief will be key if Derry are to launch a title tilt this season.
"I think if we want to be successful you can't settle for draws," claimed McEleney. "The character is there in abundance in this team. Even last year, they were in it until the end all the time. There 'til the death.
"Rovers showed their class in the second half and pinned us back. While we were pinned back we showed our experience and limited them. Obviously they had the ball in good areas without really hurting us. I think the difference is now we believe we can win these games and obviously with Jamie's brilliance in the end.
"We're delighted. We obviously could've won it last week without playing really well. We weren't brilliant last week at all (against Dundalk). I think the first half tonight we were really good and we got the game where we wanted it Jamie has shown a bit of brilliance in the end to win it.
"Jamie has been tremendous and he's definitely a goalscorer so the boys behind him we need to find him.
"We knew it was a goal once he got that shift and half a yard. Even when he hit the bar last week when he went through I had no doubts. He's that type of striker where if he gets in off either side you're in trouble and long may that continue."
Despite the euphoria on the terraces after a first win over Shamrock Rovers since 2017, 'Fats' knows there's many twists and turns to come over the course of a season and he moved to temper expectations.
"It's a good start but for us to be successful, it's a long year, trust me I've been there. You have to take each game as it comes and we'll see where it takes us."
Up next is the visit of Sligo Rovers to the Brandywell on Monday night and so the celebrations after the Rovers game were muted.
"It's a tough game," said McEleney. "They're all tough games in this league, honestly. Every team gives you different problems. We'll have to get ourselves ready and switch off from what we did against Rovers and concentrate on Sligo."