If you were to think of a player that epitomises everything that Derry City stands for, Barry Molloy would certainly spring to a few minds.
He was the man you didn’t mess with in a generation of players who lived and died for the shirts. The Peter Huttons, the Kevin Deerys, the Eddie McCallions, the Sean Hargans, the Paddy McCourts… the list goes on.
Between January 2005 and November 2014, if you attended a Candy Stripes game, chances are Molloy would be there. Throwing himself into tackles. Running himself into the ground. Making himself heard and letting the opposition know he was there.
In over 300 games he only scored twelve goals, but that was never his role. He was the protector of the back four and the player always tasked with keeping an eye on the opposition’s danger man. And it worked.
By the time he decided to make the move to Crusaders, the former Derby County man had eight cup medals, a league medal and an incredible European run in his back pocket. Five of those cup medals came in the League Cup – and they all arrived in the space of seven years, four under Stephen Kenny, and one (2007) under John Roberston.
In such an illustrious career at the Brandywell, where he captained the team 78 times, it’s almost impossible for Molloy to rank where that incredible League Cup run fits in, but he did admit that the victory over UCD 13 years ago was huge.
“I played in a lot of big games with Derry and we had a very successful eight or ten year spell,” the 34-year-old told the Derry News. “My first trophy was the League Cup in 2005 and I think any senior player will tell you that the first one is really special. It sparked a lot of success for me, and a lot for the team, especially under Stephen Kenny.
“You can’t underestimate how much confidence it gives you as a player to be winning a trophy, no matter what it is.”
Victories over Shelbourne, Bohemians, Wexford Youths and Cork were to follow. Every match was so different, but every one ended the same way – with a trophy in his hands. The latter game was one that Molloy points to as the greatest of them all, though.
“Each one of them was special and the UCD game was obviously important, but for me Cork in 2011 was the best of the lot.
“We hadn’t beaten them in such a long time and, even though they were playing in the First Division at the time, we really wanted to go down there and beat them on their own patch. We had just gotten promotion the previous year and after getting back on track it was fantastic to keep building that momentum.
“I always remember it too because I played out of position that day. I was put in at right-back, so it was a memorable one in that way too!”
SECRET TO SUCCESS
Some jokingly renamed the competition ‘The Derry City Cup’ such was the dominance of the Candy Stripes a decade ago. When queried about exactly why the team were so successful in that particular competition, Molloy pointed to the strength in depth of the squad, and the desire of manager Stephen Kenny.
“People always used to say we were a team that couldn’t get over the line in the league and that we were just a cup team, but we knew we could beat anyone on our day. We were the team that everybody wanted to avoid when the draw was made,” insisted the midfielder. “Stephen used it was a way to get players game time as well, but, especially in his early years at the club, we had such a strong squad that even when he started boys that weren’t normally in the first eleven – they were still quality players that could do the job.
“The other thing about Stephen was that he always wanted to win – no matter whether it was the league, the FAI Cup, the League Cup or any other game – every competition that we entered Stephen wanted to win it. That mentality fed into us as players as well, and when we got that first taste of it down at UCD, it just gave us that drive.”
It wouldn’t be surprising that upon completing the four-in-a-row with a 6-1 win over Wexford, or getting number five three years later against Cork, that that initial buzz of winning a domestic trophy would slow wear away. Not for Molloy though.
“Definitely not. Even against Wexford when we scored the six goals, we knew from very early on in the game that we were going to win, and even coming off the back of winning the three previous years as well, it was still just as special going up and lifting the trophy. It didn’t matter whether you were playing a team from the lower division or your nearest rivals, when the final whistle went it was an amazing feeling,” he insisted. “A lot of people don’t realise just how important it is in the grand scheme of a player’s career. So many go without ever getting their hands on a trophy, so I always had the mentality that I had to enjoy every one of them – and I did. I loved the build-up to every final, the game itself, and the celebrations afterwards.”
THE NEW GENERATION
Having moved to England recently, Molloy will take to social media at 4pm on Sunday evening, frantically waiting for updates on how his home club are doing in a showpiece that he was once the dominator of. The 34-year-old knows better than anyone that, despite everything seemingly being in their favour, Kenny Shiels’ side can’t afford complacency.
“Derry have the home advantage and are the top flight team so everyone will be expecting them to win, but you have to show Cobh respect,” he explained. “They’ve beaten Dundalk and they’ve shown they are capable of winning the whole thing. The boys should just be focused on Sunday on getting over the first five or ten minutes and going from there.
“Previously I know I’ve played in games where we have underestimated the opposition and come out on the wrong end of the result.”
While Molloy has admitted he thrived on the hype, the build-up and the buzz before a major cup final, he said that the current crop of players have to find a balance so they’re mentally ready come Sunday.
“All you can do is go about your normal game plan and focus on what you’ve worked on all week. With any final there’s going to be a lot of hype, but as a player you have to just shut that out.
“There’s no match in the League Cup that’s easy, whether it’s a Cork or Dundalk or a First Division team. Stephen Henderson will have Cobh well-drilled and they know that they have nothing to lose coming the Brandywell. Derry have everything to lose.”
This modern Derry City is much different to what Molloy remembers. The Brandywell is new and improved. No longer are the teams shuffling out of the dusty, cramped changing rooms and making the long walk past the Showgrounds pitch and onto the park. There’s a magnificent new stand in memory of a Molloy’s team mate and friend, and club legend, Mark Farren. Another thing is different. This season, the Candy Stripes have conceded 56 league goals in 30 games – a new record. As a defensively minded midfielder, Molloy pointed to the changing personnel as the main reason, but he feels this weekend is a make or break for Shiels’ men.
“I think you have to put that down to the turnover of players. There hasn’t been a consistent team for the last two or three years, and that’s obviously going to have an effect. Particularly when it comes to the back four and the goalkeeper, that relationship takes time to build and when you don’t have those same faces in there week in, week out, it can be difficult.
“This final is Derry’s season. If they win, it gives them confidence going into the FAI Cup game and the rest of the league. Europe is still there and silverware as well, so they have to focus on the task at hand and not negatives.”
Another factor that is different is the number of local faces. One thing that seemed so special about Molloy’s generation was that Derry ran through the veins of practically everyone in the team. The 32-year-old, who finished his career at Finn Harps, said that the League of Ireland scene is totally different now, and it’s why City face an uphill battle to keep hold of their best talent.
“If a player’s good enough then I don’t think it really matters where they’re from. For me, I’ve always grown up playing in teams that have a core local base and I do think it benefits you to be alongside boys that you’ve grown up with and that you have that connection with.
“It’s a different game now, though. If the likes of Dundalk or Cork are coming in and offering you a full-time contract, it’s not easy to turn that down. We’ve lost a lot of local talent because of that and, yes, it was different ten years ago but we were winning trophies and challenging for the league.
He continued: “It’s a different climate now. There are quite a few players in the squad that don’t have local connections, and maybe there are one or two that could be blooded in, but at the same time you have to deal with what you have.”
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