Derry City manager Declan Devine says he is well aware of expectations at Derry City but has played down Liam Coyle's suggestion that the club needs to qualify for Europe this season or the 47-year-old will be looking for a new job.
“I know what it takes to manage this football club,” says the former goalkeeper, who led the club to FAI Cup success during in first stint in charge back in 2012 and whose side kicks off the new campaign against Longford Town on Saturday.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion but from my point of view, I look in the mirror every morning, I k now what my job is, I know what I’m trying to achieve and I know what I’m good at.
“Yes, absolutely, no matter who is manager of this football club, there’s going to be pressure on them. It is very much a results-based business but I can hold my head up high and say I’m happy with the job I am doing.”
That all said, Devine acknowledges that last season’s seventh-place finish, or more particularly some of the performances that contributed to it, weren’t good enough and accepts that he has to bear his share of the responsibility for it. But he believes a shift in emphasis at the club, an attempt to reconnect it to its roots, will bear fruit over the coming months.
“I found it very difficult as the manager last year to gel the group,” he says. “They were coming to training then getting into their cars, going home and not seeing each other until the next morning.
“We weren’t able to get out and about around the city, we didn’t have our fans behind us, there was no feel to it . . . It was just like a group of men thrown together; coming to a strange city and that was reflected in our performances and that was my fault. I didn’t get the same togetherness that previous squads have had, I didn’t feel the spirit or the mentality of the group was right.
“We had to reflect on that. So while some of the best players in Derry City’s history always came from outside this city, I could go through a list as long as my arm; most of the players who are seen as historically the best players this club has had are from outside the city . . . but we also have to have more of a home-grown feel about us and I think that that’s where we are trying to go this year.
"We have more Irish-based players here, we have more players who have been at the club before . . . I think we have gone back to basics with players who are hungry to prove themselves, as opposed to more established players. I look at the likes of Will Fitzgerald and believe we will give him a platform to showcase his ability, but we have a young and vibrant squad and I think everybody, myself included, has a point to prove."
Replacing the departed Conor McCormack with Eoin Toal as captain is certainly an indication of the faith being placed in the club's younger players. But Danny Lafferty's return, something Devine says has been made possible the greater latitude he has been given to recruit on a longer-term basis, is just one sign that's not at all about up and coming talent either, while the arrival of Will Patching from Dundalk is a reminder that it is not exactly exclusively local either.
Devine is adamant that people will get to see a side of the 22-year-old that there were only glimpses of during his time at Oriel Park and the manager says he is confident too that 18-year-old midfielder Joe Hodge will get to make an impression before too long despite having been forced to return to Manchester City last month after injuring his back in training.
“He’s got a small hairline fracture at the base of his back,” says Devine of the highly-rated underage international, “but he’s at a club where they are going to give him the best medical attention and we’re very hopeful we will have him here. We were actually very hopeful we’d have him for the season, not just this short period of time [the original six-month deal]. I’m very confident we will have Joe Hodge back playing for Derry this season.”
The manager says he is hopeful that with the vaccination programme north of the Border well ahead of the rest of the island, City might be allowed to have some spectators back in before other clubs but, he says, the aim is for the team to be in the mix whenever it might happen.
“We are in the process of taking every advantage we can get,” he says. “If we can get people into that ground earlier than anyone else; absolutely brilliant. I would jump at the opportunity for that to happen.
“We need fans back, it’s absolutely rubbish without them, let’s be totally honest. It’s soulless. But we also have a responsibility when people are paying good money to tune in on a Saturday or a Friday night to watch us. And if we can get them back in the stadium, I want them back in the stadium when we are in a good position and not fighting and scrapping. We want to be in a positive place.”