Football/Soccer

Candystripes followers have every faith in the Derry boss Declan Devine... and fans have European football to look forward to.

Derry City manager Declan Devine celebrates as his side score their first goal against Finn Harps at Brandywell on Friday October 25 2019.. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus Crudden

They always say you should never go back, but thankfully for Derry City, Declan Devine didn't follow that mantra and returned to the Brandywell hot seat in 2019.

Having left his home town club in 2014, Devine came back as manager for a second time and he really had to hit the ground running in terms of recruitment as he only had four players on the books after Kenny Shiels' departure.

Some things didn't really change since Devine's last time in the dugout as Dundalk were again the team to beat, however this time Vinny Perth had the unenviable task of trying to follow Stephen Kenny, but what a job he and his players did, in fact they were a penalty shoot-out away from going into the record books and joining Derry City as the only team to complete the domestic treble.

Yes Perth was left a lot of riches by Kenny, who moved onto bigger and better things and will become the Ireland manager next year taking over from Mick McCarthy, however after what was a disappointing European run for the Lilywhites and a few league defeats in the early stages of the season, the champions really got motoring and were relentless in their pursuit to securing silverware.

As ever big players Pat Hoban, Michael Duffy and Chris Shields along with Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare and Sean Gannon all played their part in what was a magnificent season, which saw Dundalk end the year hammering Linfield to secure their third trophy of 2019 by winning the Unite the Union Champions Cup.

In fact, Dundalk's 31-match unbeaten record in domestic competition stretching over six months came to an end as the champions' loss at Bohemians in October.

However, before that defeat at Dalymount Park, the Oriel Park men, were in superb form, with only really the Candy Stripes the only side who really put it up to them as they played out a host of top-drawer ding-dong battles.

A late, late header in extra-time by Georgie Kelly saw them knock Derry out of the FAI Cup, before a few weeks later, a penalty shoot-out win in front of a packed Brandywell saw Dundalk win their first of what they had hoped to be a treble, as they secured the EA Sports Cup, thanks to Shields' sudden death spot-kick.

But despite those two cup disappointments, Derry were back and more importantly the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium was rocking and sides feared playing at the Lone Moor Road ground.

Devine with his back-room team of Paddy McCourt, Kevin Deery and Marty McCann worked their magic in recruiting a host of young, talented and hungry players such as David Parkhouse, Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, Greg Sloggett, Ciaron Harkin, Ally Gilchrist and Ciaran Coll to name but a few.

In fact, Parkhouse, who joined on a season long deal from English Premier League side Sheffield United, was outstanding and his work-rate set the tone for Derry all season, however it was Londoner Ogedi-Uzokwe who in the end won the Golden Boot.

Like Parkhouse, the striker was on-loan from Colchester United and after taking a few weeks to find his feet in the league, he scored a lot of big goals throughout the season, but his hat-trick against Harps on the final night of the season, meant he pipped Dundalk's Hoban by one goal to finish as the Premier Division's leading marksman.

Bohemians boss Keith Long again produced the goods, as he built virtually a new squad after losing a host of players in 2018 and the Dalymount Park men were rightfully the third best team in the league behind Dundalk and Rovers.

Finishing third means they have Europa League football in 2020 and their impressive home support is likely to increase next year.

After finding out at the last minute that they wouldn't be playing in Europe, Waterford's season really didn't get going, while at Sligo Rovers, Liam Buckley guided the Showgrounds side to a FAI Cup semi-final loss to Dundalk and a seventh place finish in the league.

Derry's North West neighbours Finn Harps, who defeated the Candy Stripes at Finn Park in July, thanks to Harry Ascroft's header, were always in a relegation dog-fight with UCD, with the Students not being able to avoid the drop and Ollie Horgan's men seeing off Drogheda United in the play-off, to maintain their Premier Division status for 2020.

Having run Dundalk close for a number of years, Cork City's fall from grace was sudden and also resulted in manager John Caulfield losing his job and being replaced by Neale Fenn.

Another man who didn't see out the season was Harry Kenny at St Patrick's Athletic, the Dubliners signed a host of players but never really got started, however under Stephen O'Donnell's stewardship a big 2020 is expected.

Although it's the former Dundalk skipper's first taste in management, he has already shown his intent by luring ex-team-mate Robbie Benson away from the double winners.

Yes I said double winners, as Stephen Bradley's free-flowing Shamrock Rovers ended their 32 year wait for FAI Cup glory and thus denying Dundalk the treble.

In truth, The Hoops deserved it on the day with ex-City midfielder Aaron McEneff putting in a superb performance at the Aviva Stadium. In fact, McEneff thought he had won it with a late penalty strike, however another Derry man cut short Rovers' celebrations as Duffy's sublime finish with virtually the last kick of the final, meant the game went all the way to penalties.

Former Northern Ireland international goalkeeper Alan Mannus was the Rovers hero saving Cleary's spot-kick in the shoot-out.

The victory for the Tallaght men could be the spring board for more success, but one thing is for certain, they will be Dundalk's biggest threat this season, especially if they can keep Republic of Ireland international Jack Byrne, who at times light up the league.

As for Devine it's back to the drawing board for him as he looks to try and replace the likes of Ogedi-Uzokwe, Parkhouse and Sloggett, who have all departed since the final game of the year, but Candy Stripes followers have every faith in the Creggan man building on last year's campaign and the fans have European football to look forward too.

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Football/Soccer