The last few seasons at Derry City Football Club have been far from vintage, but there is a growing feeling around the recently renamed and refurbished Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium that the club is back moving in the right direction.
Last season’s 8th place finish in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table and the subsequent departure of Manager Kenny Shiels left the Candy Stripes at their lowest ebb since 2009, when they went into financial administration and were relegated to the First Division.
With the vast majority of the 2018 playing staff out of contract and a limited budget, Declan Devine returned to the club for a second spell in the hot seat and took on the unenviable task of rebuilding the squad virtually from scratch.
Despite some shrewd signings, the majority of the 2019 first team playing panel are players elevated from the club’s youth set-up and the expectation of most supporters when the League of Ireland season kicked off in February was that the club would be doing well to avoid relegation.
While the results from their opening six games have been mixed with two wins, two draws and two losses, there is a confidence and excitement around the club again that has been sorely missing in recent seasons.
The team look to have their swagger back with Devine deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation that encourages his midfield players to push forward and be creative, perhaps most notably in their 3-0 opening night win over UCD at the Brandywell.
Their two defeats to date have come against Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, the top two sides in the league whose spending power has lured local talent such as Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy and Aaron McEneff away from the Brandywell.
Perhaps most crucially, they have conceded just seven goals in their seven games played to date, which compares particularly favourably with the 70 they let in in 36 league games last season.
Despite the significantly improved match day experience at the newly refurbished stadium, attendances last season were at an all-time low, but there has been a marked increase in the crowds and fans appear to be buying into what the new manager is trying to achieve.
There will surely be highs and lows this season, but with a marked increase in the number of local players in a first team squad who are playing attractive football for a management team made up of former players, Derry City seem to have rediscovered their identity and the feel-good factor has returned to the Brandywell.