Devine with the Ford FAI Cup. INPHO/Donall Farmer
FAI Cup final

'There'll be no prouder man than me to lead this team of Derry men out' - Devine

The Candystripes boss takes great satisfaction from reaching the FAI Cup final but now wants to finish the job.

IN HIS FIRST year in charge, Declan Devine has brought Derry City to their first Ford FAI Cup final since 2008. We spoke to him last week about tomorrow’s meeting with St Patrick’s Athletic at Lansdowne Road.

How much does it mean to you to get the team to an FAI Cup final, being that you’re a Derry man yourself?

I’m very proud. I’m very proud to manage this club and to have a bunch of players that give me everything. I’ve said all along that when we have our full squad we’ll be a match for anyone. To be the first Derry team to get to the new Aviva Stadium, if we could could go on and win it I’d certainly be proud. I don’t want to go down here and make up the numbers. I want to make sure that when we get on the bus back to Derry on Monday morning, that we’re bringing one of the most historic trophies in Ireland to our city.

This is a huge football club and it deserves to be in major finals. Having lost one in 2008, it’s been a long time since we’ve been here. It’s nice. The club has been transformed in terms of we’ve had to rebuild from bottom to top.

We’ve had to go from being bottom of the first division to pushing our way up back through the ranks of the Premier again. To get back to an FAI Cup final is fantastic but the reality is that we need to make sure that we don’t just get to the final but win it and that we bring trophy back to the cabinet and make everybody in the city proud.

We’ve all been a close group at this club for a long time. I am very proud to be leading what is predominantly a Derry team of Derry men and boys out in the Aviva Stadium. There will be no prouder man to bring that trophy back.

It must be nice to have a fully fit squad now considering you had 12 and 13 players training at times this season?

If you can look around the changing room today, they’re all wrapped in cotton wool in case anything happens them. We’ve had tough times but that’s the reality of it. We’ve had set-backs all year and have had to deal with it but the pleasing thing is we’ve got everybody fighting for a place in the cup final at this moment and time. If we’re going to be successful it won’t be down to 11 players, it’ll be down to 18 or 19 players. We need everybody pushing hard and having the same focus and determination.

It’s not everyday that you get an opportunity to win a major medal and it’s certainly something to look back on and show their family members when your career is over.

Is it going to be hard to pick the team coming into the game on the back of a good run?

It’s not a problem that I’ve had all year because the team picked itself for three-quarters of the season. I’ve been speaking to everybody in the city and they’ve got an opinion of what the team should be. It’s pleasing to have a fully-fit squad and we’ll certainly have variation. We have youth and, experience and talent so we’re going there to have a right good crack at it.

The dress-rehearsal two weeks ago went your way (Derry beat Pat’s 2-1 in the league)…

It’s better than coming out with a defeat but the reality is, for me, that game finished at half past nine last Friday night. What’s happened will have no relevance. I’m sure Liam will feel the same way. His players will be focused and determined to avenge that game. They’ve had a fantastic year, have gone through a few rounds in Europe, they’ve only lost two games away from home all year.

They’re a fantastic football side littered with experience and youthful, talented players. We know that for us to achieve anything we’ve got to be right on top of our game.

Ger Doherty spoke of fans getting frustrated at the start of the season by performances but said no one was more frustrated than the players. Has criticism that the team has got been answered in recent weeks?

If you look at, there have been six or seven young players this year who have made their debuts. The whole city is ranting and raving about Barry McNamee at this moment and time. He possibly might not have made his debut if the injury situation hadn’t have been as bad as it was. People seem to forget that these young players have been presented with an opportunity maybe a bit earlier than would’ve been anticipated. The senior players take a lot of respect for helping them through.

There were some performances that weren’t great. When you’re down to the spine of your team for long periods, it has been difficult but thankfully the players kept believing in what we were trying to do and kept working hard on a daily basis. When you’re playing at a big football club, you’re not going to please everybody but the people behind the scene have seen the work and effort that’s gone all year.

Doherty saves from Christy Fagan when the sides met a couple of weeks ago. Credit: INPHO/Margaret McLaughlin

Doherty added that he would like to win the game for you as he felt the players had let themselves down at times this season. It is nice to hear that your hard work is being appreciated?

It’s my first year in management and it would be very easy for the players to make me a scapegoat this year. I don’t think that has been the case. They have been outstanding throughout the year. We’ve had our ups and downs and Gerrard has had another fantastic year in my opinion. He has just had two twins and his hands are literally full. Those hands have been well-worked this year.

I’m delighted that those players have given myself and Paul everything this year. We have to get better whatever the result is on Sunday. We will strive to get better and get ourselves more competitive in the league campaign.

Have penalty shootouts played a part in your preparations?

It’s certainly something we’ll be looking at. I feel that whenever a game goes to penalties people believe it’s the luck of the draw. I don’t believe that. I think it’s down to the mentality of the individual and their strength of character. If you have strong characters, which I believe we do, then I won’t have a problem. I’m pleased that if it does go to penalties that we have the best goalkeeper in Ireland.

Is the chance of European football a major bonus?

It would be massive for us to qualify for Europe. I felt we were harshly treated this year in terms of not getting in having won our place. We were promised had we qualified last year we would have been given permission to play in Europe but it wasn’t the case.

First and foremost, if you take away everything – European qualification, winning the cup, walking around with a medal around your neck, having a son or daughter on the pitch – we’ve got to win a football match. It doesn’t matter about the hotel, your suit, the crowd. You put all that to the back of your mind and concentrate on doing what you’ve done all your life and that’s winning in 90 or 120 minutes.

‘Please God, our players won’t be affected by cup drought’ – Buckley

Interview: Kevin Deery talks Derry’s season and the FAI Cup final