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DFC Magazine | Dundalk’s Derry Boys

Dundalk FC Magazine
// 16 Feb 2020

The first issue of the new-look, 64-page DFC Magazine went on sale ahead of Friday night’s game with Derry City at Oriel Park.

A new feature this year is the ability to buy a digital copy of the DFC Magazine which will allow you to read it on any device. A season subscription is also available.

Click on this link to buy your digital DFC Magazine>>

Ahead of Friday night’s curtain-raiser between the sides, Gavin McLaughlin sat down with Dundalk’s ‘Derry Boys’, Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy and Ruaidhri Higgins, to chat about their memories of life at the Brandywell for the DFC Magazine. You can read the interview below.

Patrick McEleney celebrates with Michael Duffy after scoring Derry City’s first goal in their Europa League tie with Aberystwyth Town at the Brandywell in 2014. David Maher/SPORTSFILE

GMCL: Ruaidhri, did you go and watch Derry as a kid?
RH: More-so when they used to play games on a Sunday. If the GAA team was playing in Celtic Park then you could make a day of it. I was never a season ticket holder or anything like that but I’d always try and get to at least one home game a month.

GMCL: Fats (Patrick), I read that you were a ball-boy?
PMCE: Aye, I was a ball boy a few times and I had a season ticket for five years. I was a proper fan, I used to go to a good lot of the away games, the likes of Shels and Bohs in Dublin.

GMCL: What about you Mickey?
MD: No, not really, to be honest. I went to a couple of games when I was younger and I did ball boy once through one of my junior clubs but I wouldn’t really have gone to many matches.

Michael Duffy, pictured at Dalymount Park in 2013. Picture: Tomas Greally/SPORTSFILE

GMCL: You’re the only one here who has come through Derry’s youth system, though. When did you join?
MD: I was playing at U15 but I played for Derry’s U19 team in the Foyle Cup and I just stayed with them, right up to the reserve team in the Ulster Senior League. I went from there into the first-team.

GMCL: Fats, you went from Foyle Harps to Sunderland and then moved to Derry City when you came back. Were you ever involved with Derry when you were younger?
PMCE: There was a sort of an academy that Declan Devine was trying to start up. We played teams like Linfield at the Brandywell. I think Derry were trying to go with that sort of set-up but it just seemed to fade away.

GMCL: Ruaidhri, you played with Newtown Youths in Limavady before you moved to Coventry City in 2000.
RH: Aye, we won everything with Newtown in the Derry and District League. Our age group was very good. There were a lot of household names who would have played in my age group and the standard and rivalry were very good. We won the ‘treble treble’. Kevin Deery won’t be too happy with me saying that but it’s the truth!

GMCL: If it was now, all three of you would be snapped up by Derry’s U13 or U15 League of Ireland team.
PMCE: I think it’s the best way. When we were younger you played with your local club and things were a bit crap. Now, the younger lads are getting better games at that age and it will stand to them in the future.
RH: The thing I like about the academies now is that you’re exposing the young lads to travelling so when they go into the first-team it’s not foreign to them getting off a bus after a three-hour journey to play a match. That’s important. I think it hardens them. There are good people involved in the underage teams throughout the league and I think it will only benefit clubs. I would like to think that players aren’t in a rush now to go to England and you have to give the FAI some credit for taking the bull by the horns and setting it up.

Ruaidhri Higgins, pictured with Derry City manager Stephen Kenny and Killian Brennan during a press conference ahead of their UEFA Cup tie with Paris Saint-Germain in 2006. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE

GMCL: What age were you when you Stephen Kenny took you back from Coventry to sign for Derry?
RH: It was just before my 20th birthday. Myself, David Forde and Killian Brennan were Stephen Kenny’s first three signings. We all signed on the same day. Stephen took over halfway through the 2004 season and Derry were fighting to stay up but he told me the first time he met me that we would be challenging to win the league the following year. I nearly choked and laughed at him but in 2005 we went into the final day of the season two points clear at the top and we lost down in Cork. Some of the memories I have from those years are unbelievable.

GMCL: You would have seen him play regularly Fats?
RH: Aye, he was sitting booing me!
PMCE: No, I used to sit with my grandad, just trying to take things in. I’d be concentrating on what was happening. That was a good side, to be fair, and then when Paddy McCourt arrived he brought a lot of people to the Brandywell. He was amazing.

GMCL: He’s from Shantallow, which is where you’re from?
PMCE: Yeah, he’s from around the corner.

GMCL: Who’s the best player from Shantallow?
PMCE: I’ll have to concede on this one.

Ruaidhri Higgins celebrates with Paddy McCourt and Eddie McCallion after scoring for Derry City against Linfield at the Brandywell in 2017. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE

GMCL: Would he be the best player that all three of you have seen?
RH: He’s the most naturally gifted player I’ve ever played with. Felix Healy was just before my time so, from what I’ve seen, Liam Coyle and Paddy McCourt are the two most gifted players to have played in the League of Ireland in my time and they both just happen to come from Derry; two real street footballers. I’ve had the pleasure to play with Paddy. He’s the only player I’ve ever given the ball to on the halfway line and 10 seconds later you know it could end up in the back of the net. Off the ball, he wasn’t the best player in the world but on it, he was a genius!

GMCL: Mickey, was he a player you tried to style yourself on? You obviously didn’t want to be a Ruaidhri Higgins type-player!
MD: I don’t really remember him with Derry. It was more with Celtic when you’d see him scoring these absolute wonder goals. He was some player.

GMCL: Ruaidhri, when Derry were relegated to the first division in 2010, you moved to Bohemians. I remember thinking that was a strange one when it was announced.
RH: I’ll be honest, we hadn’t been paid in four months at Derry. I had a mortgage and my circumstances dictated that I had to go. I had just bought a new house and I had to go. Bohs is a brilliant club but I didn’t have a great time there. I was always told you needed to be quick to pull a hamstring but I did one in pre-season. We took the league to the final day of the season but if I could turn back time I might have stayed with Derry. I was grateful to Stephen Kenny when Derry got promoted that he gave me the chance to come back.

GMCL: Fats, you broke into the Derry side that same season. How did you find the first division?
PMCE: It was good. I remember my first game away to Waterford and I didn’t play well. I thought after that that Stephen wouldn’t put me in again but he kept playing me week after week and I scored a lot of goals and created a lot of goals which put me up for the Player of the Year award. It toughened me up. Stephen gave me a three-year deal at the time and I think he was always looking at the long-term and he trusted me to come good. No matter how I played he threw me in.

Patrick McEleney celebrates a Derry City goal against St Patrick’s Athletic at the Brandywell in 2011. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE

GMCL: You rejoined Derry when they got promoted, Ruaidhri. What did you make of the young McEleney?
RH: Genuinely, we were in for the first training session and we were doing attack versus defence. Stephen Kenny rolled a ball to him on his left foot, on the halfway line, and he smashed it over Ger Doherty – who is the last person you want to do that too! I just remember thinking to myself, f**king hell! (laughs). That’s when I knew the hype I was hearing about him was real.

GMCL: You broke into the team for the 2013 season Mickey so all three of you played together for a while.
MD: Aye, Declan Devine gave me my debut towards the back end of the previous year. I remember scoring my first goal against Shelbourne away. I was playing centre-forward and the next year I got 16 goals.
RH: Believe it or not, we played four-four-two a few times that year and it was me and Fats in the middle of the midfield.
PMCE: Loads of legs!
RH: Apart from a night in Bray, we had a good record when we played together in midfield. It was only four or five games but it was still good.
PMCE: I don’t remember it that well!

GMCL: That was your last season at the club, Ruaidhri. You moved to Dundalk when Roddy Collins took over at the Brandywell.
PMCE: That was a fun time!!
RH: I genuinely thought that I had a very good season in 2013 and when Roddy Collins came in he got rid of me. It was taken out of my hands and I was devastated but Stephen Kenny came back and took me to Dundalk and we ended up winning the league.

GMCL: What was it like going from Stephen Kenny and Declan Devine to Roddy Collins?
PMCE: It was strange. Really weird. I remember in 2014, he played me and Rory Patterson up front during the whole pre-season and then in the first league game against Shamrock Rovers he dropped both of us!
MD: Me and Shane, Fats’ brother, were nowhere near the team in pre-season and he put us in the team for. It was mad.

Dundalk’s John Mountney, Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy, pictured at the Brandywell in 2019. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

GMCL: I think Dundalk and Derry are really similar in that you have to fit in with the character of the people. It seemed like Roddy Collins just didn’t ‘get’ Derry.
PMCE: He used to say the wrong things all of the time.
RH: Like Dundalk, there’s a lot of local media attention. The football club is the hub of the city and that was probably hard for him to come to terms with.

GMCL: Some of the games between Dundalk and Derry last year were fantastic. Why do you think that was?
PMCE: They’re a good side. There’s no getting away from it. They felt they were able to compete with us and they’ll be up there again this year.
RH: For a couple of years, I think that Derry got away from what it means to play for the club. It’s a very historic place and with Declan Devine, Paddy McCourt, Marty McCann and Kevin Deery all involved there, the players will know about that and they’ll represent the city and show a lot of fight. If you look at a lot of our games with them last year, they kept coming back at us. They showed a real fighting spirit and they have got that ethos back.
PMCE: I think it’s important for the League of Ireland that Derry City are doing well. You just have to look back at the EA Sports Cup final last year and see what they bring. I can’t see them going away. They’ve made some good signings and they’ll be pushing again this year.

GMCL: Finally, let’s talk about Derry Girls. Is it a good representation of life in the city back in the mid-nineties. You’re the only one old enough to know Ruaidhri.
RH: I don’t know, sure I lived in Limavady! I’ve made a life for myself in Derry, I’ve married a girl from Derry and I’ve made a lot of friends in Derry but I’ll never forget that I’m a proud Limavady man!
PMCE: The Vad! It used to be a hotspot for us when we were younger.

GMCL: Really?
PMCE: Yeah, there was one nightclub. We used to get the bus up.
RH: I actually saw a young Michael Duffy there one night. He couldn’t believe it when I tapped him on the shoulder. He ran to the toilets when I saw him.
MD: It’s true. I went to Limavady trying to stay away from everyone and there he was. Typical!