Shane McEleney's career has 'come full circle' as he returns home to Derry City
FOOTBALL HAS come full circle for Shane McEleney.
It’s been a real long and winding road for the centre half who has been on his travels since 2015 but he’s now found himself back where it all began at Derry City.
A proud ‘born and bred’ Derry man, the Shantallow native admits he was ‘anxious’ to make his way back through the gates at the Brandywell Stadium on Tuesday to officially complete his move back home.
In his first three seasons in full-time professional football, McEleney won the First Division title (2010), the League Cup (2011) and the FAI Cup at the Aviva Stadium in 2012 but after that dream start to his career the defender was forced to leave his hometown club midway through the 2015 campaign as manager Peter Hutton was forced to cut key figures because of a slashed budget.
He was reluctant to leave but it paved the way for a move to St Patrick’s Athletic but his acrimonious departure from Inchicore following a fall-out with Liam Buckley ultimately opened the doors for a move to North America. Paul Dalglish offered him the move to Ottawa Fury in the USL and he uprooted from Ireland along with his partner Orlaith and they spent a year in the Canadian capital.
Returning home in 2018, he spent two seasons with Larne in the Irish League before moving closer to home when joining Derry City’s derby rivals Finn Harps. McEleney claims it was never a ‘goal’ of his to return to Derry but when his brother Patrick completed his high profile signing from Dundalk, thoughts of reuniting on the pitch certainly began to cross his mind.
And when Ruaidhri Higgins lifted the phone and made clear his intentions and expectations, McEleney admits the fire in his belly returned and he’s delighted to get the opportunity to line out for the Candy Stripes once more.
It’s been six years since he last represented the club and much has changed in the meantime but he’s determined to do his part in bringing success to the club. “It’s good to be back where it all started,” said McEleney.
“It’s full circle and it’s a bit surreal to be back. I never thought I would get the opportunity to come back and play full-time football again.
“Whenever Ruaidhri lifted the phone and especially with my brother being here, I just felt it was a no-brainer to come back.”
He’s certainly not bitter about his 2015 exit and has no regrets about how his football journey has gone. And McEleney believes he’s returning with vast experience and a more mature outlook on the game. Higgins agrees and expects to see a much more polished and cultured centre half next season.
“I look back at past experiences and learn from each and every one of them,” he said. “I went to Dublin and then ended up playing out in America and then came back to play in the northern league.
“So I have vast experiences playing in different leagues. Hopefully whenever pre-season starts it will stand me in good stead. Hopefully I can coach the younger players as well and show them how to conduct themselves around the place as well. I’m just looking forward to getting started.
“I have that hunger coming back and with a consistent year last year, making that transition from part-time to full-time shouldn’t be too much of a bother for me because I’ve done it for 11 years previously before I turned part-time. Hopefully my body just clicks into gear and it all works out for me. “I wouldn’t say it was a goal to come back but it was always in the back of my head. Especially whenever Patrick came back I was thinking I could do it. I could come back, get myself in good shape and have a crack at it next year.
“There’s plenty of competition for places which is always healthy and we will spur each other on. Myself and Ruaidhri had an open and honest conversation and we got off on the right foot.
“Obviously I had a bit of playing time with Ruaidhri here at Brandywell so we have mutual respect. Whenever it came about I was keen to jump at it with two hands and try and get back.
“I’m just happy to be back. I was walking through the gate and was a wee bit nervous and anxious if I’m being honest. It’s a good feeling to be back,” he smiled.
Teammates in that 2012 FAI Cup Final victory over St Pat’s, Higgins knows exactly the person he’s bringing into the Derry dressing room next season. McEleney certainly has an affinity with the club and he’s hoping his experience and knowledge of the club and the league will help the younger players in the group. “I think I’ve grown up a bit,” he said.
“I know people will be looking and there will be a few doubts but I think I’ve become a better defender playing for Finn Harps and it’s added to my character. I look forward to coming in. It’s not going to be easy by any means. There will be competition for places but I’ll back myself.
"I’ll come in and hopefully everything goes well and I can give a good account of myself. I think I can give vast experience to what is predominantly a young dressing room and hopefully I can be a good part of it. It will be a family affair for the McEleney household next season and it’s something which has made his return to Derry that extra bit special.
“My granda was a season ticket holder here and I always remember my first match coming here was against Bohs. Myself and Patrick would always go. We would’ve joined him on occasions.
“I started my career here and have my best footballing memories here. I’ve won things here and would love for that to happen again. It will be a bit surreal coming in and the changing room will be different but I’ve got my brother in there with me as well which will be nice.
“Getting to play with Patrick again was an added incentive but it was more so Ruaidhri when we had that conversation. It was an open floor. He told me some things I needed to get sorted and I took on the information and anything he asked. So it was more an influence from the manager than from my brother. It will be nice to play together again. It’s six or seven years down the line.
“Whenever I broke the news to my family they were all really happy and it will be nice to see them all supporting us playing for Derry again. It would be unbelievable to come back and think we could be in with a chance of winning things, winning a cup or the league. But it will be a process.
“In my first three seasons in football I won the First Division, won the League Cup in my second year and won the FAI Cup in my third year and thought ‘this is easy’. Everyone knows it’s far from easy to win a trophy.
“Even though we’ve got all these players coming in it will be a process. It won’t happen overnight but I’m looking forward to it all and hopefully it comes sooner rather than later.”