The Dundalk boss was left ‘devastated’ and ‘hurt’ when learning the pair had signed pre-contracts with their hometown club over recent months.
Perth claimed he ‘lost sleep’ and was reduced to tears when Duffy followed in McEleney’s footsteps and informed him he was leaving the club where he’s won two league titles and two FAI Cups.
The Dubliner reckons the future is bright for Derry City who have acquired not only the services of ‘two of the best players in the league’ but two of his ‘friends’.
“Derry have got two of the best players in the league returning to them and the future is bright for them,” said Perth. “They are just two brilliant people.
“I’ll try not to let them know it but I will shed a tear over losing the two of them come Friday night, absolutely. It’s about more than football because we’ve achieved so much together. I’ve lost two friends, absolutely.
“Patrick and Michael are two people whom I’m really close to. When Michael told me he was leaving it was devastating. I felt we were close under the previous owners to putting together another squad but Michael couldn’t wait any longer and I couldn’t get him a contract offer.
“That conversation the two of us had was difficult. I lost sleep that night over it. I threw him out because I didn’t want him to see me cry,” admitted Perth.
“I think there was a chance he would’ve stayed but we’ll never know. Some would say he was always going back to Derry. To be fair to Dundalk as a town and a football club, himself and his partner and child have had a great life in Dundalk. They live in a beautiful part of the world in Blackrock so yeah, I think there was a chance he could’ve stayed.
“Patrick was a different case. He’s at a later stage where his child is ready to start school so completely different. As a coach you take these things personally so I was really hurt, absolutely.”
Perth rates McEleney, whose contract expires this weekend, as the most talented player he’s ever worked with and claims Derry can expect a ‘strong willed’ leader who will set standards at the Brandywell club.
“A lot of good players have come through Dundalk over the last nine years and I’ve always said the most talented player I’ve ever worked with is Patrick McEleney. He’s just got brilliant talent. The difference now is he’s a leader and Derry are getting a leader in the dressing room. Someone that’s strong willed and who will set standards in the dressing room so I think that’s a huge advantage.”
“Obviously he’s won three league titles, two FAI Cups and two League cups and he’s played in the group stages of the Europa League twice,” continued Perth, “He’s someone who has been absolutely outstanding and, from a talent perspective, he’s the best player I’ve ever had the luck to deal with.”
The Dundalk boss, whose own future at the club is undecided, hopes the pair receive a special send-off from the Dundalk supporters tonight.
“Michael and Patrick have both shown just how good football people and how professional they’ve been. Since Patrick signed his pre contract his performances, in the summer in particular in Europe, were outstanding. And Michael’s form over the past month when we’ve needed him has been just outstanding. You can never question these two guys’ character.
“I think a lot of our supporters will turn out because in one sense it is the end of an era. Hopefully for Dundalk’s sake they can rebuild and go on a new journey but it’s the end of an era. I hope a lot of the fans come out and say their farewells to the likes of Michael and Patrick. Hopefully it is a special occasion.”
When the pair next arrive in Oriel Park in the red and white Candy Stripes, however, Perth hopes it will be a totally different reception.
“I don’t like using the word legends and I expect them to go back to Oriel Park next year and get some stick. If the fans don’t do it, I’ll do it! That’s part of football. Myself and Ruaidhri (Higgins) were manager and assistant manager in 2019 and the goal that effectively won us the league against Shamrock Rovers was brilliant play by Patrick and Michael. So myself and
Ruaidhri will always have won a league where the big moment was down to them. We’ll never forget them. We’ve lost great people.
“I don’t think there will be pigs’ heads thrown but I’m sure they will get some nice names thrown at them. I hope they expect that and see it as a term of endearment.”