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'Newcastle and clubs like that are paying £30 million for an unheard-of striker. We might have unearthed one'

Derry boss Declan Devine was full of praise for striker Tim Nilsen after his debut on Friday night.

Dundalk’s Daniel Cleary with Tim Nilsen of Derry City.
Dundalk’s Daniel Cleary with Tim Nilsen of Derry City.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

DECLAN DEVINE was remaining optimistic despite seeing his Derry side lose 1-0 away to Dundalk in their opening Premier Division fixture on Friday night.

It was a busy off-season for the Candystripes, with nine new players recruited — five of whom started the game at Oriel Park.

And the visitors held their own against the reigning champions, missing a few good chances, before Dane Massey volleyed home a 79th-minute winner.

Devine, in particular, singled out some of his recent signings for praise — Tim Nilsen (Fredrikstad, free transfer), Danny Lupano (Hull, loan) and Conor McCormack (Cork City, free transfer) were among those to acquit themselves well.

Derry had an encouraging season last year, with their fourth-place finish enough to secure European football, but Devine believes his side are even stronger this time around.

“I think they’ll get better, we’ve done a lot of video work showing the [new] guys what the league is about, Nilsen wants to come here and go to another level and I think he’s got it in him. Lupano wants to come here and show Hull City he’s a top player, and I think he’s got it in him.

“But in terms of the overall, the group, they’ve all bought into the ethos of playing for Derry City, the commitment, the willingness to dig in when they haven’t got the ball. I’ve seen Derry City a few years on the spin and they were a bit soft. I don’t think we’re soft, I think we can spit a bit of fire. We’re absolutely devastated that we lost the game, and that’s a good sign for me, we’re not in a habit of losing games.”

One of Devine’s biggest challenges in the off-season was finding new attackers. The top scorer in last year’s league, Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (14 goals), has departed, while David Parkhouse, who was not far behind him on 11 goals, has also moved on.

Yet judging by Friday night’s showing, Norwegian striker Nilsen has the potential to be a more-than-adequate replacement.

My words were they’re ‘like hen’s teeth’. It’s not just in this league, they’re looking for [number nines] in Scotland and England. Newcastle and clubs like that are paying £30 million for an unheard-of striker. We might have unearthed one, I hope we have, he certainly looks the business from my point of view.

“It was very difficult to find him. Myself, Paddy McCourt and Kevin Deery, we took no time off over Christmas in the off-season. We’ve been watching hundreds of games a week, you’re initial reaction is ‘he’s out of our league,’ but you speak to his agent, you speak to him and there is a willingness, we bring him over and we show him the facilities and thankfully, we have good facilities. To be fair, the boy showed a real hunger to come here. I’ve no problem with him using us as a stepping stone. I think he’ll definitely get better as the season goes on.

“I think our history helps us. We’ve generally moved players on, look at Greg Sloggett [who moved to Dundalk], Tim Nilsen, what’s not to say he’ll be moved on, or Walter [Figueira]. Over the course of recent history, we’ve moved players on. There is nobody at Derry City for life-changing money, they’re here for opportunities and to play in front of our fans and to play in our ground. If we continue to get the buy-in we have, I’m no doubt we can move people on again.”

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declan-devine Declan Devine pictured during Friday night's match between Dundalk and Derry. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Asked if the success stories of Parkhouse and Ogedi-Uzokwe helped improve outsiders’ perceptions of Derry and by extension, the League of Ireland, Devine added: “A lot of clubs contacted us to take players this year. We can only take four loan signings, we’ve got three at the minute, we might bring in another. But there was actually a willingness from clubs in England and Scotland to offer us players.

“We only take players that are the right fit, you can’t take players that are not better than what we have, or what’s about the league. Reading gave us Adam [Liddle] and Hull, through Grant McCann, gave us Lupano. It’s a brilliant league, this is a great league. U23 football in England is rubbish. I’m sure players that have played U23 football are looking at this tonight and thinking: ‘Wow, this is a different level.’”

Devine has a longstanding association with Derry City, and is in his second spell as manager, having previously coached the side between 2012 and 2014. He explained that back then, English clubs were not as eager to loan out players to them.

Definitely not. I think what is happening in England at the minute is there are so many players at every club. But U23 football, for me, and I speak to others, it’s not natural, there is no edge, it is ticky tacky and a simple and beautiful game, but it’s not real.

“A lot of clubs are looking for experience for their players. I see Waterford bringing in a few today, Cork brought a few in, we’ve brought in a few, St Pat’s have brought a few in.

“Like last year, everybody is looking for a new Junior or Parky, as a league we’ve got to understand that we produce a brilliant product, we’ve got to make sure we don’t undersell ourselves.

“But ultimately, these [Irish] underage leagues need to start producing players for our clubs as well. We shouldn’t have to go to U23 football in England, we shouldn’t have to go to players who can’t get a game at a Championship club. We should be producing our own players.

That’s my ultimate goal — down the line that we have our own Danny Lupanos and our own Junior’s and our own David Parkhouses. If we do that, we get the backing from the league — there is no doubt there are good players in Ireland.”

Moreover, asked if he was disappointed that Parkhouse this season has ended up at Stevenage — a side currently bottom of League Two — rather than returning to the Candystripes, Devine suggested it was primarily parent club Sheffield United’s decision to loan him there.

“It was out of our hands, his club wanted to challenge him in a different way, to see if he was ready for a different style of football. I think we’d be confident we’d give Stevenage a game. His club are sitting fifth in the Premier League and felt that the next step for Parkhouse was to go to Stevenage. But listen, Junior and Parky, they’re gone, we’re delighted with who’ve got.”

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Paul Fennessy

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