Bryan Keane/INPHO Derry City's Shane McEleney (file pic).

‘If we’re being frank and honest, it’s about the money’

Shane McEleney is hoping Derry City can secure a financial boost with a good run in the Europa Conference League.

IT APPEARS that Derry City have hit form at the perfect time.

After a seven-game winless run in the Premier Division, they have recovered to prevail in back-to-back matches, including last Friday’s impressive 3-2 victory away to Bohemians.

Defender Shane McEleney is encouraged by the Candystripes’ recent progress while emphasising their performances were never as poor as the results suggested.

“Those seven games we went without a win, there were plenty of games that we could have won,” he tells reporters. “But we didn’t get the rub of the green on the day or we weren’t clinical enough. So I think, all in all, we’re in a good position as a team. Since we came back from the break, we’re unbeaten.”

Ruaidhrí Higgins’ side will be hoping to continue this encouraging form, as they host Latvian side Riga in the Europa Conference League first leg this evening.

“It’ll be a good experience for us,” he says. “I’ve played in Europe a few times, but there are a few younger boys who haven’t and it’ll be brilliant for them, so it’s something we look forward to.”

McEleney cites a 2013 clash away to Trabzonspor, in which they lost 4-2 on the night and ultimately 7-2 on aggregate, as one of his most indelible experiences.

He is one of just three players now at the club who were in the matchday squad back then, along with brother Patrick and Michael Duffy, who misses out this evening due to a long-term injury.

“The crowd and stadium over there were brilliant. I think it was 24,000 and it was just hopping. So you have to look forward to these things because you just never know if they’ll come around again.”

Despite the disappointing outcome on the night, McEleney seemingly caught the eye, as he was linked with a move to the Turkish side thereafter.

It never materialised but was it ever close to coming to fruition?

“I’m not sure. Obviously, the player hears last but that was on the cards for a while.

“No [I never spoke to them directly], I had an agent at the time who was dealing with it.

“I would have gone, definitely.”

McEleney is hoping Derry can enjoy better fortune in the Europa Conference League this year. While the calibre of opponents may be lower than the Europa League, it also means they have a better chance of progressing.

“If we’re being frank and honest, it’s about the money. If you play a couple of rounds in Europe, the club is in a far better place than what it was so, I think it’s it’s brilliant for League of Ireland clubs. It’s brilliant for the clubs in the north as well because if you get through a round or two, the money is huge. So for the player as well it’s a fantastic experience, but for the club as a whole, it’s a brilliant competition to be in.”

The 31-year-old, therefore, is happy to sacrifice an early glamour tie if it means they can stay in the competition longer.

“Speaking honestly, you’d want a tie that’s winnable in the first round. Getting the club a bit of money and then a nice name in the next round or even a round after would obviously put the icing on the cake.

“Riga are a good side, an organised side, they’re experienced, so it’ll be a tough ask. But is it winnable? I would say over the two legs, we’ll give it our best shot.”

McEleney might have been forgiven for thinking nights like this were behind him at one point.

His initial six-year spell at Derry came to an end in 2015. Since then, he has had shorter stints at St Patrick’s Athletic, Ottawa Fury, and Larne, before spending 2021 battling at the other end of the Premier Division table with Finn Harps.

“I got a phone call from Ruaidhrí at the end of last season and I thought: ‘Why not just give the full-time football another try and see how it goes for me?’ And you know, so far so good. It’s worked out.”

McEleney spent last season alternating between playing for Finn Harps and coaching football as his day job, so the switch to full-time has not been a radical shift by any means.

“You were sort of football 24/7 [anyway]. So it wasn’t a tough transition physically for me to keep myself in shape and stuff, coming from part-time to full-time. We have a sports scientist guy in there, Kevin McCreadie. He got me into good nick and just trying to play consistently week in, week out.”

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