McChrystal returns to Brandywell to kick-start his career

TO SUGGEST that Mark McChrystal has experienced a frustrating six months as a footballer would be an understatement, yet the 25-year-old has opted to return to the Brandywell for a third time!

Widely recognised as a stylish centre-back, a player comfortable both in the air and with the ball at his feet, he never really got the breaks he felt he deserved at his home town club, having returned from Wolves as a teenager back in 1993.

The former Northern Ireland Under-21 international captain has also experienced life in Scotland with Partick Thistle before returning home for a second time in 2007 due to family reasons.

But he failed to establish himself as he would have liked in the Derry City back four with Peter Hutton and Clive Delaney always considered the first choice central defenders during Stephen Kenny's second spell at the club.

Despite that fact, Mark opened last season on a high note having played in the opening 10 games before getting sent off and, subsequently, he lost his place in the heart of the Derry defence.

But he did manage to work his way back into the first team before an accidental clash with then team captain, Hutton, at Oriel Park against Dundalk, which saw him sustain a fractured cheekbone and it was back to the treatment room for another extended stay.

That injury had a major effect on his aspirations in the Europa League before Derry's financial problems set in. The non-payment of wages fashioned great frustration and personal difficulty and McChrystal negotiated the cancellation of his contract last August in an attempt to rebuild his career elsewhere.

But that didn't work out as he had hoped. A two weeks trial with Huddersfield Town appeared to be going well yet nothing materialised and he returned to Ireland to join Lisburn Distillery on a short-term deal towards the tail-end of last year.

Further Financial Problems

During his time at Ballyskeagh he helped turn the "Whites" defensive frailties before realising that the Irish League club was also moving into financial difficulties.

"I couldn't believe that my problems with Derry were happening all over again. Sometimes that can be hard to take," he insisted.

"I haven't received wages from Distillery for quite a few weeks and I was back to where I was six months ago.

"The experience has certainly opened my eyes in relation to the game," said Mark. "I think I've been a bit unlucky, but I've decided to put the past behind me and I see my return to the Brandywell as a new start, not only for me but for everyone associated with the club."

Having agreed a one year contract, with an option for a second, the player is looking forward to returning to kick-start his career.

"Stephen (Kenny) has kept in contact with me after I left last August. He didn't want me to go at the time but understood my predicament. I wasn't getting paid and that was causing me problems. I knew if I didn't get released in August, I would not be in a position to join another club until January and I wasn't prepared to wait that long with no money coming in.

"I would also admit that I was very disappointed and disillusioned at being left out of the FAI Cup final against Bohemians in 2008. I think I played in all the cup games but when I was dropped for the final I became even more frustrated as I didn't think I was getting a fair throw of the dice.

"But, as I've said, I've put all that behind me and I want to move on. Maybe a return to the First Division will help the club re-organise and get the proper structures in place but what I have learned is that I need another life outside football," continued the player.

Having already secured a Business Studies Degree with Accounts, Mark has also opted to continue his education. "I may be relatively young at 25 but I also realise that I've got to think about my future and the way things have been going, maybe it's to be outside football.

"I hope to return to college in September but, at the same time, I'm attempting to secure employment outside the game."

Did he hold the view that Derry City must attempt to secure Premier Division status after one season in the lower league?

"As far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what we have to do," he answered. "I had talks with both Sligo Rovers and Cork City in relation to a contract next season. Obviously the fact that they are playing in the Premier Division was an attraction but I knew that if I was to take up their offers, it would mean relocating again and I'm not ready for that.

"When Stephen told me he wanted me back, albeit on a part-time basis, it suited me. After all, Derry is my home town and while I've had my difficulties at the Brandywell, I've always enjoyed playing in front of our own supporters.

"Hopefully that level of support will remain in place even if the club is in the First Division and we can rebuild from there.

"I've detected a feel-good factor when people are talking about the season ahead and I think there will be a buzz about the place. Derry people will rally around the club and do everything in their power to get us back to where we belong, I've no doubt about that. But I do hope that the Brandywell crowd remains and everything falls into place both on and off the park."

Impressed With Changes

And having met with members of the new Board of Directors, McChrystal was impressed with the plans they had for the club.

"I met with both Harry McCourt and Peter Wallace and I was impressed with their ideas for the future. It's basically a new beginning, the past is in the past and it's now time to move on. That's what I want and I'll be happy to be back playing again.

"I think we're all looking at a new era for the club. All the players are local and it's just like starting out all over again. If I didn't think we could get promoted in our first season back, I don't think I would have agreed to sign," claimed McChrystal.

"That said, it's going to be tough in that league and with quite a few young players involved, it will be a battle every week. I'm looking forward to the challenges that lies ahead and much will depend on the experienced players such as Kevin Deery, Eddie McCallion, Gerard Doherty and Mark Farren to help the young players progress.

"Under Stephen Kenny, fitness shouldn't be a problem, but like so many other players I've always kept myself in good shape. I've been playing well with Distillery before the 'cold snap' set in but I still attend the gym and work on my own fitness levels on a daily basis.

"I'll not be returning until after January 26th, but I'm happy now that my immediate future has been sorted. I've signed a one year deal with a one year option and, hopefully, everything will go well for us and that I will remain at the Brandywell for quite some time to come."