Derry City: Declan Devine vows to make Candystripes 'better' as new League of Ireland campaign starts

Eoin Toal and Declan Devine
Derry only secured their Premier Division survival on the final day of the condensed 2020 campaign
Airtricity League of Ireland Premier Division: Longford Town v Derry City
Venue: Bishopsgate, Longford Date: Saturday, 20 March Kick-off: 18:00 GMT
Coverage: Live coverage from 17:30 on BBC Radio Foyle and the BBC Sport website

Declan Devine has vowed to make Derry City "better" as the club prepares for Saturday's League of Ireland opener away to promoted Longford Town.

The Derry boss lamented the focus on last year's condensed campaign when his side only secured Premier Division survival on the last day of the season.

"Everybody is so hung up on an 18-game season last year. Yes there were mistakes made," he told Radio Foyle.

"I'm here to make this place better. That's what I'm going to do.

"If people want to keep reflecting on last year, then take it back two years before that when the Brandywell was empty. There was 300 people in here.

"I was at a game here covering it for RTE and there were 324 people at a game. So be careful what we wish for.

"We are all pulling in the one direction and we need that moving forward."

Close-season turnover in personnel

Devine, who also managed the Candystripes between 2012 and 2014, pointed out that his side achieved qualification for Europe in his first season in charge after returning to the job following Kenny Shiels' departure.

"I was brought in because they didn't do it the year before I came in. We came in and we probably over-achieved in the next season."

As has been typical for Derry City in recent years, the close season has seen a big turnover which includes the arrival of Paddy McCourt and Mark McChrystal to Devine's backroom team after the departures of Marty McCann and Kevin Deery.

On the playing side, arrivals include the return to the club of striker Stephen Parkhouse and former Northern Ireland full-back Danny Lafferty.

Unfortunately for Devine, high-profile loan signing Joe Hodge has had to return to Manchester City after sustaining a back injury in training last month although the Candystripes hope to have him back at the Brandywell in the coming weeks.

Midfielder Will Patching has come in on an initial loan deal from Dundalk, with former Waterford and Limerick player Will Fitzgerald and Danny Lupano also having joined Devine's squad.

Danny Lupano is a Hull City under-23 player
Danny Lupano is back for another loan stint at Derry after being with the club for the opening weeks of last season

Hull City under-23 player Lupano had a four-game stint at the Brandywell before the first lockdown last year and has rejoined the Candystripes for a further six-month loan stint.

Despite the apparently air of pessimism in the Maiden City ahead of the new campaign, Devine insists that he is "really excited" as the season is about to kick off.

Devine's close-season business included signing a number of young local players and the manager believes this policy will bear fruit for the club.

"I think the work we've done in the off season in terms of restructuring and in terms of bringing a few local-based players back to the club has been really important for us.

"We want to build something here. We want to leave structures in place here for future generations.

"I think when you look at the age profile of our players, you look at the contracts that we've handed out there, you can see that we are trying to do that.

Derry 'energetic and very good technically'

"We're a young squad this year. We're very energetic. We've very good technically.

"I think we've got a lot of power in our squad this year but it's every game at a time and we have to make sure that we're ready for Longford."

Longford are back in the Premier Division for the first time since 2016 and most pundits expect them to be among the clubs battling to avoid the drop.

However, Devine doesn't quite see it that way - insisting he was impressed with their performance as they overcome Shelbourne in the promotion-relegation play-off in November.

"Their recruitment has been good. It's going to be a very difficult game as every game will be this year.

"We can't under-estimate how difficult this league is going to be. I think the teams that came up are going to be stronger than the teams that went down.

"Drogheda have been fantastic in their recruitment. The teams that were in the bottom half last year will be strong and the teams in the top half have got stronger."

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