Derry unlikely to challenge for League title accepts Peter Hutton

By Eric WhiteBBC Radio Foyle
Derry City manager Peter Hutton
Derry City manager Peter Hutton accepts that his team are unlikely to challenge for the League of Ireland title this year
Airtricity League Premier Division: Galway Utd v Derry City
Venue: Eamonn Deacy Park, Galway Date: Friday, 6 March Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Foyle 93.1 FM and the BBC Sport website

Peter Hutton knows only too well how long it has been since Derry City last won the league title.

After all, he was the captain who lifted the trophy back in the 1996-97 season when he emerged as the club's top scorer with 19 goals.

Now as he is set to begin his first full season as manager of his hometown club with Friday's Premier Division game against Galway United, Hutton is pragmatic enough to know that wait is unlikely to end this year.

In contrast to last season when previous boss Roddy Collins was making brash predictions about landing a league title, the 42-year old has offered a more measured approach.

"The league title is not on our radar", Hutton said during the close season.

"But we have put together a competitive squad and it is up to the young players to stake their claim for a place in the team".

The realism set in during the immediate aftermath of last November's FAI Cup final defeat to St. Patrick's Athletic which followed a disappointing eighth place finish in the league.

Derry City's recent League of Ireland campaigns
2010: First Division Champions - after forced relegation in 2009
2011: Third in Premier Division - 9 pts behind champions Shamrock Rovers
2012: Fifth - 22 pts behind champions Sligo Rovers
2013: Fifth - 15 pts behind champions St Pat
2014: Eighth - 36 pts behind champions Dundalk

No European football, a vastly reduced budget and the loss of last season's leading goal scorers Rory Patterson and Michael Duffy - with 38 goals between them - has lowered expectations considerably around Brandywell Stadium.

After three seasons, Patterson, a former Northern Ireland international, felt it was time for a fresh challenge and has moved to Australia.

Duffy landed a richly deserved move to Celtic after the clubs agreed an undisclosed fee before the January window shut.

Former skipper Barry Molloy departed for Crusaders where he is now chasing a league and cup double.

But the City boss refuses to panic despite the loss of such key players and is banking on the club's conveyor belt of emerging talent to bring attractive football back to the Lone Moor Road.

In Patrick McEleney, Derry posses one of the league's most creative and exciting talents. A player whose individual brilliance is capable of winning any game for the Candystripes.

Retaining the services also of Stephen Dooley and Barry McNamee - despite interest in both players from across channel - is vital to Derry's hopes while the presence of experienced goalkeeper Gerard Doherty and ex-Linfield midfielder Philip Lowry will ensure they are a formidable force.

"The players have an identity with Derry and the north-west area which I think is important", says Hutton who holds the record of 663 appearances for the club.

Michael Duffy and Rory Patterson
Michael Duffy and Rory Patterson have both left the Brandywell club

"We must have an affinity with our supporters and I genuinely believe we have that."

The signing of striker Anthony Elding from Ballinamallard United certainly raised a few eyebrows.

This will be his 20th club and the 32-year old he will be expected to provide the goals alongside Cillian Morrison - who re-joins from Cork City having played for the club at underage level.

Hutton's final signing ahead of the new season Seanan Clucas arrives from Linfield and could be seen as an ideal replacement for the defensive midfielder Molloy.

The geographical spread will help make for an interesting season.

It's 24 years since the Premier Division featured Derry, Sligo, Galway, Limerick and Cork while there are just three Dublin teams.

Reigning champions Dundalk, Pat Fenlon's Shamrock Rovers, Cork City and St. Patrick's Athletic will contest for the title.

But if Derry can lead the chasing pack, then it will be considered a decent season and with a young, dynamic team there will be grounds for optimism moving forward.