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'You can say you're this or you're that, but it doesn't mean anything until you win something'

Veteran defender Gavin Peers is as hungry as he’s ever been after finally making his debut for Derry City.

Gavin Peers Derry City defender Gavin Peers. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

GAVIN PEERS’ LONG-AWAITED debut for Derry City triggered a substantial rise in the average age of the Candystripes’ defence for last weekend’s win over Sligo Rovers.

Peers, who turns 33 in November, partnered 19-year-old Eoin Toal at the heart of the back four. Either side of them were 20-year-old Conor McDermott and 21-year-old Jack Doyle.

After making the move north from St Patrick’s Athletic ahead of the start of the 2018 season, Peers is one of three senior players in a young Derry squad, alongside 36-year-old goalkeeper Ger Doherty and 33-year-old striker Rory Patterson.

The Dublin-born defender has already enjoyed a successful tenure in the SSE Airtricity League, and while he accepts that he’s now in the twilight of his career, Peers is eager to ensure that there are still some big days on the horizon.

His spell with his new club got off to a positive start last Friday, as he helped Derry to keep a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory against Sligo, the club he represented for over a decade. After suffering an achilles injury in pre-season, it was a satisfying return to action for Peers, who played all 90 minutes at the Showgrounds in the absence of the injured Darren Cole.

“It was a good feeling to be back playing again,” said Peers, whose last competitive outing was against Derry in the final game of the 2017 season as St Pat’s drew 1-1 in Buncrana.

“It was frustrating to be out for a while. I started off pre-season well but then just happened to pick up that injury, so I’ve just been trying to catch up. I’ve been working hard off the field. Because I might have been lacking a bit of sharpness, I was a bit nervous going into the game last week but once I got started I was fine.”

Gavin Peers and David McMillan Peers tangling with Dundalk's David McMillan while playing for St Pat's last season. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The 2018 season is Peers’ 13th in the League of Ireland since he returned from the UK, where he had spells with Blackburn Rovers and Mansfield Town. At Sligo Rovers he won every major honour in the domestic game: three FAI Cups, one League Cup, one Setanta Sports Cup and — the highlight so far — a Premier Division title in 2012.

Nevertheless, he’s still hungry for more, as evidenced by the situation he currently finds himself in. Peers is now based in the north-west, but his wife and children have had to remain in Dublin. The distance between them can be challenging, but the defender sees it as a necessary sacrifice to get the most from his career while he still can.

“I’m enjoying it up here,” he says. “It’s just harder with the family. The kids are in school and stuff like that so you miss out on those things. But there’s only a couple of more years left for me.

“I’m up here most of the time. I get back down when I can but it’s hard with the amount of games that we have. There have been a few weeks with games on Friday and then again on Monday, which I don’t really understand. I don’t see why the league can’t be run until the end of November instead of trying to fit games in on Mondays. It’s a bit ridiculous.”

When asked what keeps him going at 32, having already won every major honour in Irish football, Peers says: “I just want to win more. This is my career and I still love football as much as I’ve always done.

“I’ll always want to stay in football. Even when I finish playing I’d like to go into the coaching and management side of it. I still want to win. You want to get as much as you can out of your career. It’s a short enough career. That’s all there is to it for me.”

Derry City manager Kenny Shiels was a significant factor in Peers’ decision to resume his career at the Brandywell. The pair agreed a deal last November, the morning after the PFAI awards.

Gavin Peers celebrates after the game Celebrating Sligo's Premier Division title triumph in 2012. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Peers, who’s currently in the process of doing an online degree course course in business management with Griffith College, explains: “When I first met Kenny I just got a good feeling off him. He’s just honest and up front, and that’s what I want at this stage of my career. You don’t want anyone talking behind your back and stuff like that. He’ll give it to you straight to your face, which suits me.

“It’s a good group here overall, a good squad. Kenny’s been great for me. He’s given me the time off to do exams and stuff like that. If I need time to go and see the family he’ll give it to me too. As long as you’re putting in the work, he’s great.

“It’s all been positive. I actually felt like I owed him something because I was raring to go when I came in and then I picked up the injury. I was dying to play so thankfully I got that game under my belt last week and I’m ready to move on now from there.”

As a senior figure in this Derry set-up, Peers is more than willing to pass on advice if required. He knows the likelihood is that his own best days are behind him, but if his experience can help some of his younger team-mates to achieve their goals, that’s a role he’s happy to play.

“I’ll try and help other players as much as I can,” he says. “I can see stuff in them that they don’t. I would have liked that help when I was younger. They can go on to bigger and better things. I can’t, but helping them to get the best out of themselves and helping the manager and the staff is something I’d like to do.”

Kenny Shiels hailed Peers’ display against Sligo last week as “outstanding” after Derry won for the fifth game in a row, following a difficult start to the season. The 32-year-old’s debut came as a timely boost to Shiels, whose defence has undergone major changes since last year.

Kenny Shiels Derry City manager Kenny Shiels. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

As well as the sudden death of captain Ryan McBride in March 2017, Aaron Barry and Dean Jarvis left for Cork City and Dundalk respectively at the end of last season. Nevertheless, the outlook is certainly positive for the Foylesiders as they prepare to host another in-form side, Waterford, in the Premier Division tomorrow night.

Playing an attractive brand of football, Derry have a 100% record since they finally returned to the redeveloped Brandywell last month. Despite consistently losing key players since he took over as manager for the 2016 season, Shiels has kept Derry competing towards the right end of the table.

For the second year in a row they’ve got Europa League football to look forward to this summer too. Peers acknowledges that they’re a team with potential, but the next step in their development will be to win the club’s first major honour since the FAI Cup success of 2012.

“The only way we can be judged is by going on to win something,” he says. “You can say you’re this or you’re that, but it doesn’t mean anything until you win something. That’s what this team has to push on and do now. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Paul Dollery

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