DECLAN Devine heaped praise on his Derry City team for showing the fight and resolve to keep intact their impressive record on the road at Oriel Park on Friday night.
The Candy Stripes showed tremendous character to claw their way back from a 2-0 deficit at the home of the champions and make it seven consecutive away games unbeaten.
The Lilywhites’ record goalscorer, Pat Hoban netted a nine minute brace at the start of the second half as Derry’s disciplined, encouraging first half display looked in vain.
However, an inspired Darren Cole strike sparked a remarkable comeback in the Co. Louth venue and when Hoban was sent off for a second bookable offence, substitute, Eoghan Stokes bravely earned a point from the penalty spot with his first touch of the match just three minutes after coming off the bench.
The comeback summed up the tenacity and never-say-die attitude this young side has shown for the majority of the season and which was probably lacking in just the 2-0 home defeat to Bohemians five days previous.
Devine put it down to the outstanding fitness levels of his team and claims his side will never ‘throw the white flag’.
“I have a lot of belief in this group of players and I said from the start they will get better as the season evolves and results like this will only help,” said the City boss.
“I actually believe we’re a very fit side. Dundalk are the benchmark again in terms of their strength, conditioning and power and professionalism.
“We had a lot of energy and disciplined up until the goals in terms of our defensive shape but I’m delighted in terms of the effort the boys are giving us. To come here on the back of a hectic schedule, it is a great point.
“Derry’s a city that has to fight. It’s fought for everything it has and we’re only a part of that in terms of replicating what our city is about.
“When you’re 2-0 down it’s very easy to throw a white flag but Derry people don’t throw white flags, They fight and go to the very end and thankfully it worked tonight.”
From eight away fixtures so far, Devine’s troops have lost just once - a 2-0 defeat to league leaders, Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght. Friday’s battling point follows hugely credible draws at Bohemians, Cork and Waterford not to mention those excellent wins at Finn Harps, UCD and St Patrick’s Athletic.
And, as Devine was quick to point out, they’ve out-scored every other team in the league on their travels with 13 goals. Dundalk are the nearest with 10 goals scored!
“We’re the top goalscorers away from home in Ireland,” said Devine. “People are saying we’re missing a lot of chances and we are but the players deserve huge credit. We’ve scored more goals than any other club in Ireland on the road.
“Whenever you’re 2-0 down in any game, to pull it back to 2-2 is magnificent but to do it against the league champions and a top, experienced side, a side that is coming down with league winners’ medals, it’s magnificent for our young group.
“We were disappointed to be 2-0 down. I thought the goals we gave away were a bit soft but the character the boys have shown after this hectic period is fantastic for us.
“When you’re 2-0 down and you pick up a point sometimes it feels like three.”
The draw leaves Derry four points clear of fifth placed St Patrick’s Athletic whom they meet at Brandywell on Friday night. With third placed Bohemians hosting Dundalk there’s the potential to close in on the Gypsies.
And should Derry get to the summer transfer window well positioned for the European places, Devine is likely to strengthen his hand in the market.
“The next three points is the most important. We need to get to the next transfer window to see how we’re fixed. We’re light but I think our boys deserve a lot of credit. We’ll see where we go in the next couple of weeks.”