The Blues are back in the big time for the first time in a decade, with Derry City the visitors to the RSC for this 7.45pm kick off to get both side’s Premier Division league campaign underway.
With the top flight dropping to a ten team league for the 2018 season, Waterford were the only side promoted from last year’s First Division. They had an eight point margin over Cobh Ramblers and Alan Reynolds has added talent and experience to his squad with expectations that the Blues will be very competitive in the Premier Division this season.
Players like Ishmahil Akinade, David Webster, Bastein Hery and Gavan Holahan are feeding the feel good factor around the club – players who have all proven their ability in the top flight of League of Ireland football.
Survival for promoted clubs is the primary aim but Waterford may have higher ambitions than that as they welcome top flight football back to the city.
“We have trained hard ahead of the Derry game and we’re looking forward to it,” said Reynolds.
“There is a great buzz around in the build up to the match and we’re aware that the people of Waterford have waited a long time for the return of Premier Division football.
“We have tried to get as many players as possible adequate game time in preparation for Friday night’s game. We know that they are a very good side and they have finished fourth in the league the last two seasons so we know that it’s going to be a tough opening game.”
Paul Keegan will skipper the side this season – his mid-season signing last year a sign of intent for the Blues and their owner Lee Power. “We’re ready to hit the ground running against Derry on Friday,” said Keegan this week. “The fans played a massive part in the success of this club last season and I know that they’ll be right behind us again this season.”
However, the Blues have been hit by injuries and both their captain and John Martin will miss out on Friday’s game.
“We’ve worked very hard and the lads are raring to go. It’s going to be a big night for us against Derry and hopefully we can get a good result. The atmosphere that has been created the RSC is second to none and that played a massive role in our success last season.
“I think that everyone has worked hard and put their heads down. I think that it’s important to us all that we get a good start and that’s going to be vital to our season. The Premier Division is a new experience for most of our supporters as well as the players but it’s one that we’re looking forward too.”
The Candystripes take on the 800km round trip to Waterford to kick off their 2018 SSE Airtricity League campaign. They will have another away trip next week, this time to Sligo, as the new Brandywell stadium is not quite ready for the start of the season. Their next scheduled home game is not until the first week of March when Dundalk are due to visit Derry.
It was an incredibly difficult season for the Candystripes last year who tragically lost their talismanic captain Ryan McBride. The squad under Kenny Shiels showed remarkable character after McBride’s shocking death and showed great fortitude on the pitch to finish fourth in the league.
With Cork City winning the double, that means that Derry City secured European football for this summer and the lucrative UEFA bonus that goes with that. They did so by playing attractive attacking football and coming out top in terms of Fair Play.
City had the lowest amount of yellow and red cards and across four other aspects they also were the most fair club - respect for opponents, respect for match officials, behaviour of team officials, and behaviour of supporters.
Shiels has brought in a number of players from outside the league into a new looks squad including Armin Aganovic from Raufoss IL and David Hopkirk from Dunfermline Athletic. Rory Hale has come in from Galway along with his brother Ronan on loan (along with Nicky Low who is also on loan to the Candystripes).
They have big boots to fill when looking at the calibre of players who the Candystripes have lost since las year with Barry McNamee and Aaron Barry signed by Cork City and Dean Jarvis gone to Dundalk.
There will be more pressure on 22-year-old Aaron McEneff who had an excellent season last year – scoring nine goals in 29 league appearances.
McEneff spoke to the Derry Journal this week saying; “I’m still young but with a lot of new players coming in and with the age of the squad, it’s probably one of the youngest in the league, so having a number of games under your belt in terms of experience can’t do me any harm. I’m still learning and looking to learn every day which is important for me and the team.”
Referee: Ben Connolly
October 2007 was the last time the sides met in the top division with the Blues coming out 2-1 winners thanks to goals from Vinny Sullivan and Willie John Kiely.
The sides have met in league action more recently than that though. Willie John Kiely was also on the scoresheet that night. He scored both goals in Waterford United’s 2-0 First Division win at the RSC in 2010.
Last season was the fourth time that Waterford have won the First Division.
Waterford 13/10; Draw 2/1; Derry City 15/8
Injured: Paul Keegan, John Martin