THE MAN IN CHARGE… Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins with the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri Higgins insists he would not have signed his big-name players if he wasn’t prepared to meet the raised expectations at Derry City in 2022.
It has been a quiet close season for the fans, but incessantly busy for the Candystripes manager whose preparations for the new campaign have been relentless since the final ball was kicked at Dundalk back in November, a night when City secured European football once again.
With Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy already tied to Derry City on pre-contract agreements, the manager set about finalising his squad as quickly as he good, and more big names followed – Will Patching, Cameron Dummigan and Shane McEleney, followed by highly-rated youngsters Brandon Kavanagh and Brian Maher. He was willing to wait for the final piece of his jigsaw, and that came in the form of Matty Smith, who was unveiled as Higgins’ eighth signing just two weeks ago.
The queues for season tickets at the Brandywell surpassed anything seen at the club in years, and Higgins knows full well that all eyes will be on his team when the first whistle blows at Oriel Park tomorrow night.
“If I wasn’t okay with it, I wouldn’t have signed the players,” he insisted. “I’ve worked with a lot of the players before and I know them; there’s no egos, there’s high quality players don’t get me wrong, but if I wasn’t comfortable with it, I wouldn’t have done it.
“I think we’ve earned our right. We got into Europe and a lot of the players are local and why shouldn’t they be here, they should be here. They’re playing in the league of Ireland so they should be in this club, and I truly believe that, and I think Philip and the board truly believe that also. We’ve gone about it the right way, we’ve brought them in and enhanced the group, and with that expectation rises and that’s part of it. But I think a club this size, with this support, I think we should be aiming to be involved in the European football every year.”
Still less than a year into his first senior management role, Higgins has had his eyes opened to the demands of a football club always in the spotlight. One thing he has always known however, is that Derry City fans are not shy in coming forward with their views on their football club.
THAT WINNING FEELING … Ruaidhri Higgins knows full well the joy of winning at Derry City.
“This job has changed me alright,” he laughed. “You could be taking your first phone call at eight o’ clock in the morning. It is non-stop, but we love the game and that’s why we’re in it and I couldn’t imagine myself not being involved in football. I live in the city and it’s a great privilege to have the responsibility of managing the club, and it’s something that I’m really enjoying.”
“I think you take on huge responsibility when you manage this club. That was evident from day one because I think there’s so much good will around the place. People want the club to do well, as it’s a well-supported club. Everywhere you go someone has an opinion and people listen to it, so it just shows how much the club means to people and I realised very, very early on in the job how big it was and how much it meant to the people of Derry.
While Higgins has enjoyed every goal scored and every win along the way, there has been another side to that coin, with the manager’s job meaning that every decision is finalised by him, and him alone. From players departing to disappointments on the pitch, there has been so much to take in in just 10 months in the job.
“You take it personally,” he admitted. “I think managers who have been managing for thirty years still really hurt, because its football, it’s an industry that's really cut throat, its competitive and you take defeats personally. I’m no different, but I think I can, not get over it quickly, but I can change my focus quickly enough to the next game. It does nip away at you but you also realise that you have a job to do. You have to go and try and win the next game and that soon takes over your focus but the hardest part of the job, I don’t know.
“You are responsible and you speak to a lot of people. People talk about the off season, but there is no off season as a manager. Hopefully now that we’ve got a settled group here and we’ve brought in the players that we wanted to bring, the next off season it might be just a small bit to put together. Hopefully it’s been a decent season and you can put up the feet and enjoy it, but probably the relentlessness of it at times. I understand that comes with the job, and it's part of what I signed up for. I love this job and I don’t take it for granted.”
It would have been easy for Higgins to appoint a number two straight off the bat last April, but he bided his time, eventually seeing the season out without an assistant. He now feels his patience has been rewarded with the vastly-experienced Alan Reynolds coming on board for the new season.
“He’s been brilliant and he’s outstanding at what he does,” Higgins explained. “Not only is he a great strong character but he’s a brilliant coach that has great ideas in the game and understands that game.
“I think we see the game very, very similarly and also, I’ll get better, I’ll learn from him an awful lot and he’ll have experienced a lot of what I’m going through which will be a huge help and value to me.”
With Cork City defender Cathal Heffernan joining AC Milan and St. Patrick’s Athletic defender James Abankwah joining Udinese, there are now eyes on the League of Ireland that have never been there before. Tying youngsters such as Daithi McCallion and
Liam Mullan to long-term contracts at Derry City is a sign that City are moving with the times.
Building for the future is just as important as building for the present according to Higgins.
“Hopefully I’m here long term,” he explained. “I’m planning for the short, medium and long term, and I want to identify, along with the staff, players who we feel can break into our first team in the next couple of years. You won’t always get them right but, you have to back your judgement and we have to try and build something in here for a number of years.
“When I’m in a job I put my full effort into that job. Now that I’m here I want the very best for the club. I want to leave the club in a much healthier place.
“Every manager would tell you that when you go into a job they want to leave it in a good place and I’m no different. I plan on being here hopefully for a long, long time and try and build the club from the bottom up and really see it develop over a number of years.”
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