DECLAN DEVINE WOULD love nothing more than to join the list of legends who have forged a special bond between Derry City and the FAI Cup.
The honour roll shows the Candystripes four times in the winners’ column, fond memories that temper the pain of the club’s four final defeats. Devine was at them all, mostly as a supporter, though he did have an unexpected chance to be Derry’s hero against Shelbourne in 1997.
When the brother of goalkeeper Tony O’Dowd died shortly before the final in Dalymount Park, the local lad from Creggan, then only 23, was called in to replace him. Shelbourne won 2-0, Devine was devastated, and the chance was gone.
The years have passed. At 39, he’s the man in dugout now but he can still reel off his cup memories at the drop of a hat. It would be a special moment, he says, if he could become the first manager to lead the club to an Aviva Stadium final by beating Shelbourne on Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve been at every Derry City cup final in the FAI Cup either as a supporter, as a player, or as a coach,” Devine told TheScore.ie this week.
“I’ve always been at all the games from Dundalk in the very first one , losing to a very dubious penalty that Cleary scored. I remember being at the replay and the original game against Cork  to win the treble.
“I’ve been at the Sligo game  when Gerry Carr or Donal O’Brien… I don’t know who scored the winner. I was at the Shelbourne game  where Liam Hutton got a goal and Stuart Gauld took a penalty, won that. Then obviously myself as player .
It’s been a long association with the FAI Cup and it certainly would be nice to be the first Derry manager to take the club to the Aviva. It’s certainly something I would be proud of.
Derry come into Sunday’s test at the Brandywell on the back of a 4-0 win at home to Dundalk, a timely morale boost which snapped a run of five straight defeats in the league.
Despite the poor run of results, Devine never had any doubt that their fortunes would change.
“I had no doubt. We had a very disappointing result against UCD but I felt previous to that, we went to Drogheda with a very young side, scored first, and then conceded two poor goals. We played very well in Drogheda and we played a lot of good teams in that period.
“I always said that when we got a few of our senior players back, we’d be a match for anyone.”
That problem — the string of injuries which have blighted a small panel — has defined Derry’s season more than anything else. It would be a massive boost if players like Stephen McLaughlin and Barry Molloy are available to face Shelbourne as Devine expects they might be.
“The budget’s been cut first and foremost so we wanted to keep our better players,” he explains when asked about the small pool of players at his disposal.
We were working off a squad of maybe 16 players so when you’ve five of those players out, you’re really down numbers.
The reality of it is that if it had been squad players picking up niggles and you still had your experienced players, you would’ve been a lot more competitive. But unfortunately it was senior players that we’re missing.
He adds: “Don’t forget that at the start of this campaign, we lost James McClean, we lost Daniel Lafferty, Eamon Zayed, and we also lost Gareth McGlynn who brought 54 goals to the team last year between the four of them. That was a massive massive turnaround as well.”
What’s done is done though and Devine prefers to look forward, particularly when there is a cup final in reach. It would be Derry’s first since the penalty heartbreak of 2008 against Bohemians and for the manager, there can be no better way to finish off a season that hasn’t always been easy.
It’s coming at a time where you have one good win and your season finishes off on a tremendous high. We can either go into our last two games on a downer or we can go into them with a huge incentive at the end of the season.
It’s 90 minutes of football with a big prize at the end of it.
‘The players know what they went through last year. We’re one game from a wonderful occasion’ – Mathews