DERRY CITY starlet, Patrick McEleney, may not have travelled to the Ukraine to represent the Republic of Ireland in the Under-19 UEFA Championships, but the teenager from Amelia Court isn't overly concerned as his priority is to line-out against Limerick at the Brandywell tonight. (Kick-off: 7.45 p.m.)
Add in the fact that his older brother and Derry City team-mate, Shane, was selected and departed for the former Soviet Union on Tuesday last, Patrick was now keeping his fingers crossed that Shane would secure a starting place against England next week.
"I'll be eligible for the Under-19s for another two years and, at the moment, my priority is holding my first team place for Derry City," declared Patrick.
"We've moved four points clear at the top of the First Division and with games against Limerick and Waterford at the Brandywell over the next eight days, I think it could prove to be a very important time for the club and I want to be involved," he added.
McEleney, who negotiated his way out of a three year full-time professional contract at Sunderland before the current season started, is now back enjoying his football again having experienced no shortage of difficulties at the Stadium of Light.
"I signed a three year contract and left for Sunderland when I was 16, but things didn't go well for me. I got home sick and when I decided to take a trip back home I hated the thought of returning to Sunderland. But I did go back. I found it hard and when I returned home from international duty, I decided I wasn't going back and my parents then intervened and negotiated my release," continued Patrick.
"I had a few fall-outs with the reserve team manager and that didn't help but, in fairness to Sunderland, they let me go despite the fact that they could have held me for three years."
Since his return home, McEleney is back enjoying the game again and having played what many believe has been a significant role for his home town club this season so far, the Ballyarnett lad is anxious to continue playing his part in attempting to return the "Candy Stripes" to the promised land of the Premier Division.
"It's been brilliant since I got my international clearance as I missed the first two games of the season. But now that I've settled into the team, I'm enjoying every minute of it. I would normally consider myself a striker but I've no problem filling in on the right side of midfield, just as long as I'm in the team," he laughed.
And he believed Derry could win the league provided the same level of commitment is maintained. "I've been very happy within myself and I really enjoy playing for Derry. I experienced full time professionalism at Sunderland but, to be perfectly honest, it's very similar at the Brandywell. Stephen Kenny and Declan Devine are very professional in their approach and I think we've all benefited from their experience.
"It would be nice to win the league as Derry City were questioned in so many quarters because we were a very young team. I think we've proved many of those doubters wrong, but I feel we have a good chance of winning the title provided we keep doing what we have been doing since the season started.
"We can play great football at times and we've been scoring goals which, obviously, is very important but we can't take anything for granted. We've also got quite a long way to go with so many games to play, but if we can avoid injuries and suspensions, then we will have a good chance."
Looking forward to this evening's game at the Brandywell, McEleney was anxious to play as he missed the first match between the sides due to international clearance.
"I travelled to Limerick and watched the game from the sidelines and it was a very close affair," he admitted. "They played on a very small pitch, they are a physical side and were decent, so we know what to expect."
The son of Henry and Patricia McEleney, Patrick has also weighed in with his fair share of goals having netted a total of seven thus far, six of those in the league campaign.
"We've gone 11 matches undefeated - nine in the League and two in the League Cup - and if we can defeat Limerick on Friday night, then we would move 11 points clear of them in third place and I think that's the priority," concluded Patrick.
Limerick the priority
Brandywell boss, Stephen Kenny, who continues to heap praise on the tenacity and passion displayed by his young players in particular, echoed McEleney's comments in relation to consistency, insisting that Derry's standards cannot be dropped as he starts a series of four consecutive home games.
"The challenge for us now is two big games at home - Limerick and Waterford - over the next two weekends and we must continue our good form and display the same level of consistency and the same drive that the players have shown.
"We've noticed that there's been a tremendous hunger in all the games we have played and that must be maintained if we are to progress," insisted Kenny.
"But we cannot look beyond the Limerick game, nothing else matters at this point. Limerick are a good team and we will respect them. They have a good balance of experience and youth and we also believe that they will remain one of the contenders for the league title this season.
"They will be well organised and we must replicate the form that we have been showing in competitive games. We will take the point won last weekend in Cork and bring it into the Limerick game and attempt to play with the same confidence," noted Kenny.
The Derry boss also pointed to the contribution of his highly experienced central midfield pairing. "Kevin Deery and Barry Molloy have shown the necessary hunger and they continue to demand the same effort from every one of our players. They have given us a great platform to go out and attack our opponents and long may that continue."
With Derry now facing no fewer than four consecutive games at the Lone Moor Road venue, Kenny was happy but felt the local club was entitled to a bit of luck with home draws in both the League and FAI Cup competitions.
"We've been on the road quite a lot this season already and we still have a lot of travelling to do. This season we will travel to Wexford, Waterford and Limerick twice, three trips to Galway and one trip to Cork which was completed last weekend. We've covered so many miles on the road over a huge area and we will continue to do that.
"So to have four games at home over the next three weeks is a relief and given that we will probably be the most travelled team in the league this season, we're entitled to the home draws we received against Shamrock Rovers (League Cup) and Bray Wanderers (FAI Cup).
"That said, we really can't afford to look beyond the Limerick match. It's a crucial game for us and we must try to take fully advantage of playing in front of our own supporters on the night. If we could win the match, then it will keep us in a good position for the Waterford game next Friday, but nothing more than that," maintained the Dubliner.
On the team front, Stephen Parkhouse and Seamus Sharkey remain in the treatment room with Shane McEleney also ruled out for the next two weeks as he competes in the Under-19 European Championships.
On the positive side, Mark Farren, who missed last week's game at Turner's Cross due to a knee injury, is expected to undergo a fitness test before tonight's match before his fitness is assessed.