City start their 2018 SSE Airtricity Premier Division campaign tonight with a trip to newly promoted Waterford, with the hopes of getting their season off and running.
It’s a first trip to Waterford since 2010 for the Candystripes when both sides were in the First Division but some of the veterans of that trip such as Gerard Doherty will remember that it is far from an easy venue for home side. City opened last season with a comprehensive victory at Dalymount and will be hoping to take something from what will be a tricky encounter.
Waterford won the league with an eight point margin last season and Alan Reynolds has recruited smartly in the close season, with Izzy Akinade the marquee signing for the Blues.
City are on the road for the opening night for the fifth time in the last six years and whilst most of the coverage has focused on the progress of the Brandywell, there has been a significant overhaul of the playing staff in the close season.
City will boast a new look defence, with at least three changes in the back line. Ex-Galway United Armin Aganvoic is likely to partner Darren Cole at the heart of the defence. However with Gavin Peers, Eoin Toal and others competing for spots there will be plenty of competition. City have experimented with both a back three and back four, so it will be interesting to see if Shiels opts to use Ben Doherty and Conor McDermott further forward in a wing back roll.
In the middle of the park City may have lost Barry McNamee but have been boosted by the return of Nicky Low. Aaron McEneff was one of the stand out midfielders last season and will be hoping for a similar goal return this time. City have added the the experienced Chris Turner and have a host of young faces looking to make their mark. Rory Holden’s impact during his brief spell last season shows the opportunities open to many of the young players.
The Hale brothers will be hoping to have a similar impact to their grandfather, who turned out for the Candystripes when they were in the Irish League. Rory Hale had quite an impact on Galway United last season and will be hoping that he gets a chance to shine.
Up front, City will hope that the additions of the like of Cofie, Hale, Hopkirk and others will help to remove the dependency on Rory Patterson for goals.
Waterford have ex City man Patrick McClean in their ranks and Alan Reynolds served as an assistant during Stephen Kenny’s first spell here. The Blues are expecting a large crowd at the RSC for the opening night and like the Candystripes, there will be plenty of new faces in the line up.
With the raft of new faces over the close season and a disrupted pre-season meaning that tonight’s Derry City starting eleven remains a mystery to many. The manager wasn’t giving much away earlier in the week and both managers noted that the first night has an element of the unknown.
KENNY SHIELS INTERVIEWS