CIARON ‘Jackie’ Harkin reckons Derry City has proven they can compete with the best in the league but warned they must avoid complacency as bottom club, UCD arrive at Brandywell tonight. (K.o. 7.45 p.m.)
The midfield dynamo believes the relegation threatened Students will come to Foyleside with nothing to lose after their crucial victory over rivals, Finn Harps last weekend.
Derry, meanwhile, are on a six match unbeaten run in all competitions and after a tough run of fixtures on the road, face two consecutive home games which, according to the Creggan man, mark a defining period in the club’s season.
Indeed, City’s joint vice-captain reckons the Candy Stripes must make home advantage count, and, if they’re serious about challenging for Europa League qualification, three points against Collie O’Neill’s troops on Friday night is a must.
“The Cork match is the only game we’ve won out of that recent run but not losing is a big thing and not losing against the big teams especially is important,” said the midfielder.
“We know how good we are. It was a tough run of games against the top four teams in the league and away to them for most of the games.
“We’ve shown we are good enough to compete against the big teams but we have to go now and do what the big teams do and go and beat the rest of the teams in the bottom six.
“We need to get as much points on the board as possible over the next few weeks because it’s a defining part of our season.
“St Pat’s obviously took over us and so the aim is to catch them first. After that the aim will be to catch up with Bohs. We want to get as high up the table as we can and we want to get Europe this year. The only way to do that is to get points on the board and ticking off each game every week. So hopefully we can get three points off UCD next and then move on to the next one.”
UCD’s preparation for coming to Brandywell was to play a friendly match against League One outfit, Portsmouth at the Belfield on Wednesday night - a match they lost 11-0 and sustained several injuries.
“It was a bit of weird one,” offered Harkin. “Fair enough, get a match in midweek but we’re going into training tomorrow (Thursday) preparing for their match the day afterwards. Two days before a match, I’m not sure it was a good idea, especially as they’re low in players anyway.
“Having said that, they have no pressure coming to the Brandywell. We just need to play our game and hopefully be good on the day and if everyone performs we know we’re good enough to do it.
“Hopefully we just don’t have a bad day and they don’t have a good day. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
In the absence of skipper, Barry McNamee, Harkin could see himself deployed in a more advanced midfield role in the coming weeks. It’s a position he’s not unfamiliar with. In fact he’s produced an impressive performance in a similar role against UCD in the 2-0 win at Belfield back in April.
He’s willing to play anywhere necessary but is confident Declan Devine has plenty of options to fill McNamee’s boots.
“Because Barry isn’t going to be there I’m not sure at this stage where I’ll be playing,” he admitted. “We have the likes of Eoghan Stokes and Conor Davis who can play advanced midfield as well. There’s a lot of options and there’s a lot of numbers now. Our squad is starting to look good again.”
City’s vice captain is thoroughly enjoying being back at his hometown club this season and is hoping the Brandywell outfit can keep alive their campaign for as long as possible.
With an EA Sports Cup semi-final, the FAI Cup and the race for Europe to fight for, ‘Jackie’ is excited as the Candy Stripes enter the business end of the season.
“We’re in a good position,” he agreed. “We’re still in the two cups, we’re in a semi-final and going for Europe so it’s all to look forward to. We have to keep driving on and pushing for because in three matches all those things could be taken away.
“If you lose a league game and other results don’t go your way you could drift away. And obviously if you lose your cup games you’re out.
“We need to keep pushing on and stay in all competitions for as long as possible and see where it takes us. Hopefully it will be a successful season.”
Having completed his switch from Coleraine last January as he arrived for a second spell, Harkin has proved to be a huge hit with supporters with his tenacious, all-action performances.
And he’s delighted to be able to play his part in Derry’s promising start to the season.
“At the start of the year I didn’t know how I was going to get on,” he admitted. “I came in, worked hard in pre-season and it was a new team so I wasn’t the only new person.
“It took a few weeks to get into the swing of things but because of all the hard work in preseason, personally it went well. I’m enjoying training and the sessions and enjoying playing for Derry.
“I have another two years after this so I just want to do as best I can while I’m here.”
Declan Devine has reinforced well in the summer transfer window with the additions of Davis, Darren McCauley and Mark McChrystal and Harkin reckons the new signings have injected fresh impetus into the squad. “We want to win as many points as possible and to do that you need to score goals.
"The people he’s brought in is exactly what we need. He’s strengthened in every position and the players he brought in are brilliant players so I look forward to see how they get on. They will make our team better and hopefully we can go on a good run and they can filter into the team.”