By Gary Ferry
Derry City fans may well be reaping the benefits of the club’s strongest midfield in several years, but it could well be pillaged completely before the start of next season.
That is the view of Nicky low, who has seen enough in the players round him to suggest that clubs across the water would be foolish not to sign them up as soon as possible.
Low is the fulcrum of the City midfield which includes both Aaron McEneff and Barry McNamee, who both reached ten goals for the season with spectacular stories against Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght recently.
That midfield trio has received praise nationwide this season, with each playing their part as the Candy Stripes come close to another third place finish under Kenny Shiels.
But the problem for Derry is that the vultures are now circling.
With Ronan Curtis set to join Swedish club Ostersundes and Brighton & Hove Albion interested in Conor McDermott, City fans will be watching on nervously in the months to come.
And Low, who himself is set to return to Dundee after his loan deal ends, has warned that both McEneff and McNamee could be set to follow suit.
The midfielder missed the victory over Rovers through suspension, but watched on as McEneff hit another superb goal, making him the first City midfielder to reach double figures since Ciaran Martyn in 2006.
“He’s been really good for us and he’s a big player for us as well,” he told the Derry News. “I’m actually surprised when teams let him have the ball anywhere within 40 yards out. I tell him before the game to shoot because he’s got some strike on him and he does that. He does it every day in training. Gerard Doherty and Eric Grimes know in training that he has some strike, but people don’t close him down.
“The other night at the Rovers game no one closed him down and I was thinking to myself ‘Shoot, shoot’ and he did and it went in. He’s been really good in his all-round game since the start of the season and he has been improving all the time as well. He’s been really good on the ball but off it I can see him getting better each game.”
McEneff scored just one goal from open play last season, but this season’s tally currently stands at 8, and Low has watched on as his team made has made massive strides in 2017.
“I feel that it is a part of my game that I help the younger ones,” he explained. “I try to talk to him. It’s still a young team which people forget. Aaron has got a good head on his shoulders, but’s he’s still young and people forget that. He’s still got a lot of learning to do. He knows the game well and he’s got a good footballing brain and if he keeps working the way he is now and he keeps progressing, it will not be long before he is going to a bigger club.
That’s no disrespect to Derry because they are a good club and he loves it here, you can tell, but as Kenny always says, his ambition is to try and improve the young boys with Derry and try and move them on. He played with Spurs before and if he keeps progressing the way he is, it will not be long before he is heading across the water again.”
McEneff may well have scored the opener at Tallaght, but his thunder was stolen somewhat by Barry McNamee’s spectacular finish from 40 yards, which also took him onto ten goals for the season, the first time he has reached double figures in his senior career.
Low may well be McNamee’s number one fan.
“See to be honest, I was away for the game but I was watching it with some family and friends, and when I seen Baz on the ball I said ‘Goal’. His left foot is a joke.
“To be honest, he’s the one. In the season I’ve been here, he is the one who I honestly think should not be at Derry. I can’t speak highly enough of him as a guy; his professionalism as a player is superb. Obviously with the ball he is really good, but some people don’t realise how much he triggers our press and gets the ball back. If you watch it he starts it all and that’s when others can push on. He’s a top guy and a top professional and I’m surprised he’s still at Derry to be honest.”
McNamee is one of the senior players in the team at this stage, and Low revealed that the Ramelton man brings a lot more to the club than his contribution on the pitch.
“He’s taken responsibility on himself,” he continued. “He’s still very young at 25 like myself but you feel like one of the oldest boys in the team, which we are. But Barry is not only adding goals to the game, he speaks to the younger boys as well and tries to help and that’s what I like about him too because it’s not all about Barry. You can even see when he scores that he just walks back, he hardly celebrates. Like the other night, some people were going crazy, but he was just happy to score.
I’d rather have Barry in my team than playing against him because I wouldn’t fancy chasing him about for 90 minutes in the number 10 position.”
Derry City have a rich history of developing players before they go on to bigger things in England and Scotland, and that list could well be added to in the coming weeks and months. But Low believes that under Shiels, the club will be in good hands and ready to challenge once again when February comes around.
“It’s going to be hard for Derry to be honest, but I think it’s a great compliment to the club, especially Kenny himself,” Low explained. “I know a lot of other players in my shoes who were playing well in the reserves and when they got a chance in the first team they did well, but in Scotland they don’t really give young boys a chance. I was surprised when I spoke to Kenny on the phone before I came here. He told me it was a young team and he liked to play from the back. In Scotland you would not really get that to be honest because not many managers are brave enough to play young boys because they aren’t experienced enough.
“If Derry lose them it will be an even younger team next year because the bench is really young, even though they are good players. If Baz and Aaron leave and obviously I’ll be going back to Dundee, it will be a big blow, but I’m sure Kenny could replace them because he’s a top manager, so I would have the confidence that he would bring in good enough players to keep Derry fighting for a European spot.”
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