DEVASTATED at being left out of the Derry City starting XI for the FAI Cup Final against St. Pat’s last November, Ruaidhri Higgins may well have a point to prove at Inchicore tonight. (7.45 p.m.)
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
In fact, the 28-years-old Limavady native has been an ever-present in the “Candy Stripes” first team this season having played, in his own words, “every minute of every game.”
He may have entered the cup final in the Aviva Stadium in the 80th minute at the expense of Barry McNamee, but it’s fair to suggest that Higgins’ name will be one of the first written on the team-sheet for tonight’s vital clash in Richmond Park.
“I was bitterly disappointed when I realised that I wouldn’t be starting the cup final,” said Higgins this week. “And it really got to me because I had been playing in the four or five games we managed to win prior to the final
“But these things happen in football and as that was the final game of last season, I felt I had a few things to prove,” he added.
“I eventually put the disappointment behind me having had a good pre-season and I felt tougher and stronger prior to the current campaign. That was down to our new strength and conditioning coach, Seamus Fox who has benefited everybody in the squad.
“I felt much fitter before the season started and I’m back thoroughly enjoying my football again. Obviously I’m delighted to have played in so many games and the run I’ve been having in the first team has certainly helped me.”
Having formed a solid partnership with Derry’s midfield general, Barry Molloy, Higgins has added more aggression to his game in this campaign. Now noticed winning aerial challenges and, indeed, getting in vital tackles in what has been a busy midfield area, his workrate has not gone unnoticed either.
“We’ve started well, very well, but our strength this season has been that we refuse to look any further than the next game. People had suggested that taking three points from teams such as UCD or Bray Wanderers is not a big deal but, from our point of view, you can’t get any more than three points.
“Wins over Dundalk at Oriel Park or Shamrock Rovers at the Brandywell also yielded three points, so I think we’ve done exceptionally well to date.
“At the same time, our players do not get carried away. I think they realise that if they take anything for granted in this league, they could be severely punished and the fact that we haven’t even finished the opening series of games yet, tells you we have a long, long way to go,” he noted.
That said, Higgins openly acknowledged the fact that Derry had recorded six wins on the spin, a superb winning run with the season just nine matches completed.
“To be perfectly honest, winning runs don’t happen that often in this league, so you really can’t take anything for granted. Yes, it’s a brilliant statistic as far as the club is concerned, but it really is very early days.
“I think we have a great mixture in the squad, with the younger lads really stepping up to the mark and the older lads using their experience both on the pitch and in the dressing room, it really is a very good group to be part of.”
And even with the season in its infancy, was there any personal highlight thus far?
“The fact that we travelled to Dundalk and battled our way back to win 3-1 after falling behind was excellent, but to be able to back that win up with a 2-1 victory over Shamrock Rovers at the Brandywell one week later was very special. It basically proved that we can battle with the big boys and, hopefully, that will continue.”
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