"I'm overwhelmed and honoured to be in the position of manager of Derry City Football Club. It's a club that is close to my heart and it has been since the first time I walked in the gates for the game against Home Farm in 1985."
- Declan Devine
Just a few short weeks after Stephen Kenny decided to quit the Brandywell for the bright lights of Tallaght, two of the Dubliner's former assistant managers have been revealed as Derry City's new management team. Declan Devine, who was Kenny's number two at both Derry and Dunfermline has been handed the reins, while former Finn Harps and Institute manager Paul Hegarty will take on the role of assistant manager.
In a couple of weeks which saw a number of quite high profile names linked to the Derry City job, the news has generally been greeted with a positive response from the fans, who have lavished praise on the board for selecting two men who are held in high esteem by the Brandywell faithful. In addition to being involved with Derry as coaching staff during successful periods, both Hegarty and Devine played for the Candystripes during their playing careers and are fondly remembered by locals. The cynical fan, however, points to Devine's lack of experience in top-flight management and criticises the Derry City board for pinching pennies at the expense of ambition. Nevertheless, Devine's experience in Irish football is vast, and he more than anyone has an insight into the philosophy of success that was instilled during the Kenny era. Such a dismissive attitude also completely denigrates the quality and knowledge of Devine's number two, Paul Hegarty, who steered Finn Harps to promotion, managed the Ballybofey side in the Premier Division and also managed Institute F.C.. Derry have certainly appointed an experienced team.
"Sometimes what you're looking for is under your nose and sometimes if doesn't come from Derry you think it must be better than what is in Derry; but I think we've were quite exhaustive in the process and I think we've ended up picking the right man for the job."
- Philip O'Doherty
Briefly entertaining the notion that the board could or should have appointed a different man, consider the realistic alternatives in light of the sensible principle of frugality applied by the board. Paul Cook, who is one of the most valued managers in Ireland, was mooted as a possibility, with the City board even making a formal approach. However, unlike Derry, Sligo Rovers is prepared to flood resources into buying players and without knowing the exact financial details of the west coast club, it is safe to say that such practice can and has been a recipe for disaster in Irish football, especially in recent years. The Derry City board wishes to create a strong foundation for the club which will ensure its financial survival and, one hopes, breed long-term success. Jim Magilton is another man whose name was mentioned in connection with the job, but, considering his managerial CV, the Belfast man would surely have wanted a substantial fee relative to others.
Current Stockport County assistant manager Willie McStay was also said to have been among the contenders, but would he have really been more suitable than Devine and Hegarty? McStay hasn't managed in Ireland since the mid-90s, so his knowledge of the league is undoubtedly not as comprehensive as that of either Devine or Hegarty. Granted, he was quite successful with Sligo Rovers in the early-to-mid-90s and would probably command respect as a result of his history with Celtic, but when compared with Devine and Hegarty, it is McStay who lacks experience. It is also rumoured that the Scot wanted to be flown in to Derry from Scotland and if there is any truth to the rumours, it displays an outrageous lack of respect for the club and its fans, not to mention a lack of genuine interest in the job. To think that a Conference National team assistant would demand to be regularly flown in to complete his duties as the manager of one of the biggest football clubs in Ireland is quite unbelievable really.
There is no denying that Declan Devine faces a difficult task in steadying the ship vacated by Stephen Kenny. An alarming number of first team players have already left the club and considering the club's expected frugality, Devine will need to cast his net far and wide to come up with appropriate replacements. It is likely that we will witness the promotion of a few more of the club's talented youth players and the recruitment of those plying their trade locally, but Devine and Hegarty may spring a surprise or two. Stalwarts Gerard Doherty, Eddie McCallion and Ruaidhri Higgins have already nailed their colours to the City mast and hopefully many more will follow their lead. If Devine can keep hold of young talent such as Stephen McLaughlin, the McEleney brothers, Daniel Lafferty et al, Derry can certainly challenge, but as yet, things remain unstable. Expectations of a top three finish should probably be readjusted, but until March, you never know. All eyes are on the Brandywell.