DECLAN DEVINE was remaining optimistic despite seeing his Derry side lose 1-0 away to Dundalk in their opening Premier Division fixture on Friday night.

It was a busy off-season for the Candystripes, with nine new players recruited — five of whom started the game at Oriel Park.

And the visitors held their own against the reigning champions, missing a few good chances, before Dane Massey volleyed home a 79th-minute winner.

Devine, in particular, singled out some of his recent signings for praise — Tim Nilsen (Fredrikstad, free transfer), Danny Lupano (Hull, loan) and Conor McCormack (Cork City, free transfer) were among those to acquit themselves well.

Derry had an encouraging season last year, with their fourth-place finish enough to secure European football, but Devine believes his side are even stronger this time around.

“I think they’ll get better, we’ve done a lot of video work showing the [new] guys what the league is about, Nilsen wants to come here and go to another level and I think he’s got it in him. Lupano wants to come here and show Hull City he’s a top player, and I think he’s got it in him.

“But in terms of the overall, the group, they’ve all bought into the ethos of playing for Derry City, the commitment, the willingness to dig in when they haven’t got the ball. I’ve seen Derry City a few years on the spin and they were a bit soft. I don’t think we’re soft, I think we can spit a bit of fire. We’re absolutely devastated that we lost the game, and that’s a good sign for me, we’re not in a habit of losing games.”

One of Devine’s biggest challenges in the off-season was finding new attackers. The top scorer in last year’s league, Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (14 goals), has departed, while David Parkhouse, who was not far behind him on 11 goals, has also moved on.

Yet judging by Friday night’s showing, Norwegian striker Nilsen has the potential to be a more-than-adequate replacement.

“It was very difficult to find him. Myself, Paddy McCourt and Kevin Deery, we took no time off over Christmas in the off-season. We’ve been watching hundreds of games a week, you’re initial reaction is ‘he’s out of our league,’ but you speak to his agent, you speak to him and there is a willingness, we bring him over and we show him the facilities and thankfully, we have good facilities. To be fair, the boy showed a real hunger to come here. I’ve no problem with him using us as a stepping stone. I think he’ll definitely get better as the season goes on.

“I think our history helps us. We’ve generally moved players on, look at Greg Sloggett [who moved to Dundalk], Tim Nilsen, what’s not to say he’ll be moved on, or Walter [Figueira]. Over the course of recent history, we’ve moved players on. There is nobody at Derry City for life-changing money, they’re here for opportunities and to play in front of our fans and to play in our ground. If we continue to get the buy-in we have, I’m no doubt we can move people on again.”