You won the League Cup in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011 as part of Stephen Kenny’s backroom staff. What’s your memories of getting that first trophy as a senior coach against UCD 13 years ago?
“It was Stephen’s first trophy since he came to the club so it was obviously a big moment for him and a big moment for all of us as a staff and as a team. I remember Alan Murphy put us ahead and then they managed to equalise just before half-time, but then they scored an own goal pretty much immediately after and we went in ahead. We were able to close it out in the second half then, and it was great getting that first trophy.”
Twelve months later you found yourselves back in the final again, but it was an entirely different affair. It was a crazy win on penalties, but a difficult night as well?
“It was such a special occasion. You lose your goalkeeper, David Forde, to a red card against your biggest rivals at the time in Shelbourne, then you go down to nine men and you’re hanging on for over 40 minutes just to try to keep it at 0-0 and get it to penalties. Having the one set back was bad enough but then when Killian Brennan got sent off, we were really up against it. It’s one of those nights I’ll never forget and one that will live long in the memory. As much as we were delighted with the victory, it was a difficult night as well because we were obviously all thinking about Gareth and his family after the sudden passing of his father Sean just a few days beforehand. As a team we went down to see them after the game, which was a really special thing for us all.”
That 2006 season was one of the most historic the club have had, what part do you think the League Cup win played in that?
“It was an incredible team and an incredible season. To be honest, I do think the League Cup win actually ended up being detrimental in our bid for the league. We played Shelbourne again the Friday afterwards in the league and David Forde was serving his suspension, then Pat Jennings got sent off in the game and we had no substitute goalkeeper on the bench. Kevin Deery and Stephen O’Flynn both took a turn in goal and we ended up drawing after being 2-0 up, which cost us at the end of the season because we lost out on goal difference. It’s definitely one that I look back on that’s tinged with some regret for me. What we could have achieved would have been unprecedented – only the second team to do the treble and on top of the European run.”
The club won the League Cup again in 2007 while you and Stephen were in Dunfermline, but getting the trophy once again on your return the following year must have been a real boost?
“The win in Wexford was a really fantastic achievement. We had a relatively new side but then you still had the likes of Paddy McCourt and Barry Molloy in there. Sammy Morrow got the hat-trick and Niall McGinn was excellent as well. Winning 6-1 in any cup final is superb - it’s unheard of really, so it was a special occasion for ourselves and for the fans that travelled down the support us.”
You had to wait three years for another one – which probably felt like a lifetime after getting so many in a row. Was the win over Cork in 2011 up there with the sweetest of the lot?
“It was a really tight game and it wasn’t until late on when we got the penalty and thankfully Eamon Zayed was able to put it away. We hadn’t won in Cork in a long time and we knew that it was going to be a hostile environment and the odds would really be against us. There weren’t many fans that travelled but the ones that did were absolutely brilliant. We all got back on the bus delighted.”
When it comes to this Sunday, how does Kenny Shiels prepare his team against a Cobh Ramblers side with nothing to lose and having been without Ronan Hale, Rory Hale, Jamie McDonagh and the cup-tied Ally Roy this past week?
“It’s all about going out on the night and winning. Kenny will be instilling that belief in his players and ensuring they don’t let the occasion of playing in a final get to them. The club have a great record in the competition and I hope it continues, but Cobh won’t be afraid coming up here. They will fancy their chances because there’s no pressure on them. Derry’s preparation has obviously been a bit hampered with the four boys on international duty, but I hope they have enough to get over the line and I think they do.”
Home fans at the Brandywell will have high expectations of seeing their side pick up a trophy this weekend. Is that something that Kenny and the players will be factoring into their plan?
“You have to be calm and approach it with a solid game plan to break down the opposition. The team have limited time to prepare as a full squad with the internationals being away for the last week, but they’ll be buzzing. A final in your own back yard is exactly what you want, however, that advantage comes with expectation as well. When Derry play in the Brandywell there is always an expectation that they’ll win so they have to be ready, because there are no easy game. Kenny and his backroom staff will have them prepared and it will be up to the players to go out and put in a performance to get the result. At the end of the day, the scoreline is everything. They have a lot of young players who don’t have experience on this stage, so the likes of Gerard Doherty will be really important.”
Derry City have won this competition more times than any other club in the country (10). Does that play a role?
“It doesn’t make any difference. You have to treat each cup final on its own merits, and the fact that Cobh turned Dundalk over – which is no easy feat – shows that they will come up with confidence. Cup finals are won on the day, based on performance, and not in the history books. Derry played a final over two legs against Limerick in 2002 and lost on the away goals rule, so they don’t have a perfect record. Prepartion and calmness is vital. You can’t focus on anything other than this one game of football. Nothing else matters.”
A lot has happened at the club since the last League Cup win in 2011, do you think now is the perfect time to bring it back to the Brandywell?
“The crowd need to see a good performance. It’s the first year back at the Brandywell and there is that expectation that they’re in a final now, and they want this team to get over the line. The fans – young and old - deserve another cup win because they are the backbone of the club. The last squad that won it in 2011 had two big players, Mark Farren and Ryan McBride, in it, so it’s a poignant occasion as well. This is one of the biggest trophies you can win, and Sunday will be a big day for everyone at the club.”
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Derry so far, but with an FAI Cup quarter-final coming up on Wednesday against Bohemians and some big league games, this could be the start of a season-defining period?
“Cobh are there on merit and they’re more than capable of causing an upset. It’s in the Brandywell on the flip of a coin, so I hope Derry take advantage of that and that people get out and support them. In spite of everything that has happened this season, a win on Sunday could really build a bit of momentum. They’re two games away from possibly going back to the Aviva Stadium for an FAI Cup final. It’s still possible to end the season with two trophies and European qualification, and that could all start with this weekend.
One man still in the squad that won in Turner’s Cross in 2011 is Gerard Doherty. He was obviously a massive player for you winning that crazy FAI Cup final in 2012, and in his testimonial year it would be great to see him captain the club to this trophy?
“Gerard has been an unbelievable stalwart for the club, and a fantastic captain. He’s dedicated so much of his career to Derry City and I think it would be fitting for him to lift a trophy at the Brandywell in his testimonial year. He’s won two League Cups already and he won an FAI Cup with me, but this is such a special season for him that I really want him to have the chance to lead the side up those steps this weekend.”
You worked with the club for over ten years. Now you’re working as an IFA Youth Coach and with the international team as well as punditry with Soccer Republic and Eir Sport. How special is it to watch on as a fan?
“I just love going back to the Brandywell – it’s a fantastic stadium with fantastic fans and they deserve a trophy in the cabinet. The supporters need to be watching a winning team, and, yes, they do need a bit more consistency, but Kenny has done a fantastic job over the last two very difficult seasons. I love Derry City Football Club. I’m a lifelong fan and I loved every minute of working there, and I know how much this final means to them. It would give the town a huge lift, and the entirety of the club – the fans, the players, the staff, the people behind the scenes – they all deserve it.”
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