QPR veteran’s pivotal role in his first taste of derby action
Experienced Derry relishing Fulham clash
For a player who has made more than 530 appearances in his distinguished career, Shaun Derry’s admission that he has never really tasted the passion of a derby match comes as something of a surprise.
Over the years, fate has largely conspired to keep Derry away from the blood and thunder of local rivalries; his two years at Sheffield United from 1998-2000 came when rivals Wednesday were a Premier League side, and it was a similar story when he was at Portsmouth from 2000-02, when bitter foes Southampton were also a top-flight team.
His appearances for Crystal Palace against fellow south Londoners Charlton is the exception to the rule but, at the ripe old age of 33, Derry says that today’s clash between QPR and west London neighbours Fulham represents his first serious taste of ‘real’ derby action.
His role will be a key one, being charged with quelling the attacking threat of the likes of Clint Dempsey, Damian Duff and Bobby Zamora.
The contest will call for experienced characters and natural leaders. Fulham’s Danny Murphy is one such figure, while for the Rs the onus will be on Derry to keep a cool head in the heart of midfield.
“I’ve missed huge derbies really, so this is one year I’m hoping to take part in the London derbies – I can’t wait,” admitted the 33-year-old ahead of the clash at Craven Cottage.
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“Am I leader on the pitch? I feel so, the majority of my football has been in the Championship, so when I’m trying to be a voice around the guys who have played in the Premier League, sometimes I have to take a step back and think ‘hang on, these guys have played at a higher level than me’.
“But football is football, and it doesn’t really matter what level you’re playing at, you’ve got to set the same standards on the field, Championship, Premier League, League One or League Two.
“It’s how you approach the game, and hopefully I can bring my experience to the table.”
With two teams on show who like to play open, expansive football, there will be plenty of attacking verve to catch the eye, yet the midfield duel between Murphy and Derry is an intriguing one.
Derry and Murphy are cut from the same cloth; composed on the ball, with an eye for a pass and not afraid of a tackle, it is their respective performances from deep in midfield, helping to break up opposition attacks and launch their own sides’ forays, which will be a crucial factor.
Both players are in the twilight of their respective careers; Murphy has racked up 614 league appearances since 1993, and Derry 534 since 1995. Both have found themselves cast off by various clubs, yet both have proven the critics wrong time and again throughout their careers.
Of his midfield counterpart, Derry said: “Danny is one of England’s best midfielders of the past 12 years, his performance levels have always been high and he’s continuing to do that at Fulham.
“You look back at the Premier League Years on television, and Danny Murphy always seems to pop up with crucial goals for his sides. He’s been a great player, and still is, otherwise he wouldn’t be still playing in the Premier League - you’ve got to be a good player to play at this level.”
The similarities between the two long-standing servants extend off the field; both are consummate professionals, never courting trouble and, in Derry’s case, going the extra mile in training.
“I get in an hour before everyone else gets in, I beat the traffic and do my stuff in the gym. I’ve done a regular 30-minute slot for the last five or six years. I work on the back, the hamstrings, so I know mentally that I’m right going onto the training field. I feel better now than I did when I was 26!”
For Derry, preparation is everything, in a Premier League competition which he describes as ‘brutal’.
His game has been lifted by the influx of summer arrivals at Loftus Road, and Derry has no intention of relinquishing his shirt any time soon.
An ideal role model for the likes of young defender Armand Traore, Derry points to two men in particular when asked of his own inspirations. One is the Wales manager Gary Speed, and the other is a man who has astonishingly made more than 830 league appearances in the last 20 years.
“Everyone looks at Ryan Giggs and asks how he’s so good, but I look at the likes of Graham Alexander, who has been in battles with every single club he’s been in and has had to play 100 per cent in every single game, and he’s still there at 39 or 40.”
After a career of proving to fans and managers that he is not a spent force, Derry is finally having his moment in the sun. The effect of his presence in the QPR midfield cannot be underestimated in a season where defensive strength will be everything, and Fulham will provide another stern test.
“We’re very much aware of what’s at stake on Sunday, the bragging rights. Fulham had a fantastic result in Europe and they’ll be going into the game full of confidence.
“But so are we, we know how to play our system, and it’s up to Fulham to try and counter-act that and get the home result.
“For sure they’ll be looking to get a home win on Sunday, but we’ve put in some fantastic performances away from home, we’ve got our two wins away from home so we’re very confident.”
Follow Ian Cooper on Twitter @QPRTimes