City of Derry will have a new Head Coaching team in place when they face Ballymena in the first game of the 2016/17 season at Judges Road on Saturday (KO 2.30pm).
With Terry McMaster stepping aside due to work commitments, the club has now dispensed with the traditional ‘Head Coach’ role after being left frustrated in its pursuit of a number of high profile replacements, including South African Phil Pretorius.
There is plenty of talent at the club but our expectations are also realistic compared to the past couple of seasons. We are rebuilding and know that.Richard McCarter
Subsequently the powers-that-be have opted to change the system - with former Ulster Academy coach and Ballymena player Stephen Douglas joining as forwards coach alongside Richard McCarter as backs coach and Joe Gallanagh and James Doherty completing the new-look managerial set-up.
“There has been a fair bit of disruption in the close season but thankfully that is behind us now,” explained McCarter, “We have the new coaching team and we are looking forward positively to the new season.
“We will operate as a team, Stephen looking after the forwards; I will look after the backs with Joe and James helping us both, without having any specific Head Coach.
“Joe has taken the team on from where he left off last season so there has been no drop off in training. The boys are flat out in the gym and on the pitch so, from that point of view, nothing has changed. With the matches coming up now we have been co-ordinating the sessions to cater for more specific stuff while keeping the fitness side of things ticking over.”
The new team are now looking forward to finally getting underway after a turbulent close season which has seen Derry lose a number of regulars from last year’s First XV.
Gone are Omagh duo Ali Beckett and Neil Brown while both David Houston and Rory Squires have left for Limavady and Stephen Dickey for Coleraine. Influential scrum half Andy Semple is in Abu Dhabi and won’t be available this year while centre Davy Funston is working in England and unlikely to feature every week.
Semple’s considerable loss could be offset by the introduction of a young Australian No. 9 in the next few weeks but, other than that, McCarter is happy to put his faith in youth.
“We have lost a lot of players but there is no point focusing on people that are not available to us. We have players coming through who will get their chance to impress.
“There is plenty of talent at the club but our expectations are also realistic compared to the past couple of seasons. We are rebuilding and know that. We have to try and consolidate this season while getting some of the excellent young players at the club experience of playing at this level.
“We had this problem six or seven years ago and we managed it quite successfully but we need every one working hard.
“We haven’t set any specific targets. We will try to take it game by game because in terms of strength in depth, we haven’t the biggest of squads this year and there will be a big emphasis on trying to keep players fit and available.
“We need our senior players to really step up this season and lead by example. There will be some young players thrown in this season and while they have to take that chance, we will want the senior players to help them through.”
McCarter, who combined coaching and playing last season, says it is his intention to concentrate on his off-the-field duties this campaign.
“My own plan is to play as little as possible but if I am needed I will be available. Last year I found it difficult to coach and play at the same time. I need to do one or the other to be able to give it my full focus.
“I didn’t enjoy managing both roles and I have had a decent run, playing wise, so maybe it is time to think about the other side of the game.
“I did enjoy it when I was able to concentrate on the coaching but with having to play, I could never give it my full commitment but already during this pre-season I have enjoyed working with the players. It is something I would like to do more of in the future.
“As well as that, it is important to give the likes of Neil Burns a good run at No. 10. That’s his proper position and he is the future and a very good player as well.”
As for the visit of Ballymena this weekend, McCarter says it will be about preparing for the first of the All-Ireland League season on September 17th.
“We won’t have a bad side out but we are still in the preparation stages of the season and have some players unavailable. It is about preparation for Skerries.
“We have these three games - Ballymena, Harelquins and Banbridge - over the next three weeks and we will use them as training games to prepare for the AIL. We are not too worried about the Ulster League or Cup at this point.
“Between now and Christmas is the key for us because that will dictate how our season pans out.”