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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Paul O'Hehir

Patrick McEleney challenges Derry City to handle pressure and deliver on potential

Patrick McEleney insists Derry City can handle the pressure of trying to derail Shamrock Rovers in their four-in-a-row pursuit.

And the captain warned the Hoops that there is more to come, claiming their 13-point winning margin last season was not a true reflection of the Candystripes' potential.

The reigning league champions and FAI Cup winners lock horns again in Friday night's curtain-raising President’s Cup at the Ryan McBride Brandywell (7.45pm). Rovers could be missing up to seven first-team regulars so, no matter the outcome, neither side will be claiming that markers have been put down for the year ahead.

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But Derry skipper McEleney is confident that the runaway FAI Cup winners are better-placed to launch a sustained title challenge this season.

In 2022, Derry led the league for 10-weeks before a mid-season run of seven games without a win knocked them off course.

They eventually finished 13-points behind the three-in-a-row champions but their Cup success has given them a timely taste for silverware.

Rovers did exactly that in 2019 when they won their first trophy - also the FAI Cup - under Stephen Bradley and it was the spur they needed to become the league's kingpins.

And McEleney insists Derry will be a bigger force to be reckoned with - especially so when new striker Colm Whelan returns from his ACL in about two months from now.

Patrick McEleney lifts the FAI Cup for Derry City (INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

Ahead of Friday night's clash with Rovers, Derry stalwart McEleney said: “Pressure is a good thing.

“It means you are doing something right and if you can’t deal with it then you are in the wrong profession.

“Any team that is successful - like Shamrock Rovers - has their own experience of it. You just have to learn how to handle it and it’s part of the job.”

Much was made of Derry’s potential spending power when owner Philip O’Doherty became a billionaire after selling his private business in September 2021.

It is why McEleney insists that pressure and scrutiny will be nothing new to this team having already played with it for a season.

“I think there was a bit of pressure there last year with the signings that we had made,” he continued.

“With that in mind we had to produce and we did that in a sense, coming second in the league and winning the FAI Cup.

“But there is still more to be done as we enter the second year of that process. So maybe extra pressure would be the phrase because there was some last year.”

And McEleney does not believe the 13-point margin between Rovers and Derry was a true reflection of their top-two battles throughout last season.

“It was tighter than how it finished,” he said. “I don’t think it should have been that wide a gap.

“We had three league games left going into the cup final and you’re kind of managing the squad for that. We lost points in those games.

“But I’m sure Rovers will tell you that with eight or nine games to go there was a title race on.

‘We just fell short because of the mid-season poor patch we had and Rovers were then able to show their quality and experience. That’s what they do, they are winners.”

New signing Adam O’Reilly is pushing for a midfield start alongside McEleney tonight, following his arrival from Preston, and a successful loan spell with St Pat’s last season.

The all-action Corkman joined up with his new team-mates during their recent not-so-warm-weather training camp in chilly Spain.

And he left a good impression on the skipper, with McEleney adding: “Adam is so tenacious. I played against him last year and he’s a really good player.”

Shamrock Rovers beat St Pat’s on penalties in last season’s President’s Cup decider and Stephen Bradley wants to start this year’s campaign by reclaiming it.

Shamrock Rovers' manager Stephen Bradley (©INPHO/Evan Logan)

Bradley said: “Derry have a good squad and they had a good season last year. They’ll be strong.

“It’s the same for several other teams, like Dundalk and St Pat’s, who will be stronger than they were last year. It has all the makings to be a tough and enjoyable season.”

Derry are without new signing Whelan and Ciaron Harkin won’t return until the summer as he continues his return from an ACL.

Sean Kavanagh, Sean Hoare, Sean Gannon, Ronan Finn and Gary O’Neill will miss out for Rovers but new signing Liam Burt is fit after a recent injury scare.


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