Where do Derry City go from here? Local! writes Richie Kelly

Richie Kelly.
Richie Kelly.

And so it begins again, Derry City are weighing up the options as to who their next manager should be.

I want to throw my thoughts - for what they’re worth - into the ring. I know it’s two or three years since I was involved directly in the affairs of local sport, but I still take note of what’s going-on, albeit it in a less intense way, now - and from a safe distance.

After 30 years of reporting you do find, even in retirement, that the affairs of the local football teams still impinges upon your thinking.

Derry City is looking for a 17th manager since entering the League of Ireland 33 long years ago. I didn’t know it was as many as that, but I’m quoting ‘Journal’ Editor, Arthur Duffy, whose fine article in this newspaper of a few days ago summed up the current state of play.

I have no reason to dispute his figures, like myself, he was in from the beginning of the League of Ireland era. And what a time we had: League Championship wins, FAI Cup wins and many trips across the Continent in pursuit of European competition.

I’ll put my cards on the table right from the off. Derry City should appoint a Derry man to manage the team. The records prove a local man does best.

The Brandywell club have been remarkably successful since entering the League of Ireland. And virtually all those triumphs have been engineered by sons of the city.

Derry City have twice won the League of Ireland Championship title and on each occasion Derry finished top of the pile a local man was in charge.
Jimmy McLaughlin’s victory in 1989 was one of the most memorable in the history of the League of Ireland because not alone did his smoothly polished and accomplished side lift the league title, they went all the way in fact by doing the ‘treble,’ adding the FAI Cup and the League Cup to the loot gathered that year. That feat is so remarkable that it has never been repeated; it stands alone 29 years later.

Then, in 1996/97, along came another real football man, Felix Healy and his squad also won a league title. They won it by the way in the most emphatic manner.

Healy’s leadership is hugely undervalued in this native city. During his tenure as City’s gaffer (as English players like to refer to their manager) he was ever so close to managerial immortality in his home town. He almost did two doubles; on each occasion in pursuit of his major twin targets he was undone by 90 minutes of football.

Jim McLaughlin and Felix Healy had, in my opinion, similar skills as canny, clever orchestrators of football teams. The key to their enormous successes was, I believe, the fact they knew who could play.

They were able to look beyond the skills people expect of a senior footballer to those other things that make the player something special. They recognised that in players. It’s a very special skill because players that win titles have something extra in their make-up. And the truly outstanding football managers know how to utilise it.

Derry is a football city with a lot of knowledge. Which is why I think the board should concentrate on local football men in their search for the new manager. Two other ‘Candy Stripe’ team bosses deserve praise. They were able to get results and they were also Derry men.

Kevin Mahon won a League Cup and an FAI Cup when Liam Coyle downed Shamrock Rovers with a memorable finish. Kevin’s team had some great local content.

Declan Devine, another son of Derry also won the FAI Cup. I remember questioning his sacking. Why he was dismissed? I shall never know.
There is one manager from outside who deserves mention.

Stephen Kenny, arguably already one of the greatest ever League of Ireland team bosses was the best ever appointment from outside. I hate repeating this – but Stephen knew who could play.

I think a local man knows the scene better. He understands his town. He knows the football people. The list of triumphs I have mentioned underpins my argument that local is best for Derry.

I know the local man is not always going to succeed but, by and large, what he brings to the table is something more than trophies – though in professional sport they are crucial.

What also has to be factored in is the development of local talent and with the FAI demanding huge concentration – through underage leagues - on this aspect of club football, a local man is needed to oversee all of this.

One final thought. I know a prophet is never appreciated amidst his own people and it’s never been easy for a local man to manage Derry City.

The scrutiny is more intense; the critics bigger in number but you expect criticism, Derry is a football town after all.
Derry’s local football leaders have handled the pressures in the past. They can do it again.