'˜This city, they're football mad and you see what it means to them'
NICKY LOW has lifted the Scottish League Cup in front of over 50,000 fans at Parkhead but ranks Derry City's EA Sports Cup victory just as highly given the injury nightmare he overcame to play his part.
The former Aberdeen midfielder, who won the 2014 League Cup with the Dons, has been on the long, lonely road to recovery since a successful operation on his troublesome groin injury last month.
Since Derry’s 1-0 win over Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds in the semi-final Low had targeted Sunday’s final as a potential return date and put in the hard yards to make it happen.
Gruelling rounds of boxing, cycling and running during a laborious rehabilitation programme under the supervision of club physio, Michael Hegarty ensured he was ready to make his first appearance since the win over Bohs at Dalymount on June 8th last.
And so playing a part in Derry’s first cup success since 2012 and celebrating with the fans who invaded the Brandywell pitch at the final whistle, made it all worth the wait.
“This is right up there for me,” he said of the victory. “Obviously I won the League Cup at Aberdeen in front of 50 or 60,000 at Parkhead but this is different.
“This city, they’re football mad and you see what it means to them. It was sold out. It might not be a big stadium but that passion rubs off on me anyway.
“I’m a passionate guy and it rubs off on most of the guys but this was emotional and I’m really happy with the win.”
Introduced as a 65th minute substitution for fellow Scot, Aaron Splaine, Low was warmly welcomed back into the fold by the Derry City supporters who chanted his name.
His presence on the field has been greatly missed over the past 14 matches and he admits it was a ‘special feeling’ to make his return and lift his first piece of silverware with the Candy Stripes.
“It’s a special feeling,” said an emotional Low as he made his way into the dressing room after the celebrations died down on the Brandywell pitch. “It’s special thing being at the Brandywell.
“It’s been very frustrating to be honest,” he said of his injury-blighted season. “I played through most of the season with an injury before I got the operation when I just couldn’t go on any longer.
“I’m not a very good spectator,” he smiled. “When I’m watching the lads I just want to be out there and you’re kicking every ball.
“I’ve got to give credit to Micky Hegarty our physio, he’s probably one of the best physios I’ve ever worked with, if not the best.
“I’ve been doing double or triple sessions every day because when we got past Sligo in the semi-finals we worked it out that if we could get the operation the following week then the final would be a realistic target.
“And we’ve been working hard. We’ve been boxing, we’ve been on the bike and training every day for the last couple of weeks. So I have to thank him for it or I wouldn’t be able to play today.”
Within six minutes of coming on Derry scored the decisive third goal from the penalty spot and Low felt he needed to settle the play down and help see out the game.
While he’s admittedly not fully fit just yet, Low reckons the crowd spurred him on.
“I must be doing something right if the fans are singing my name,” he laughed. “I just wanted to go on and help the team and I felt as if I did that. I tried to get on the ball and try to settle us down a bit. Thankfully we got the third goal not long after but I think it was a good performance all round.”
The late Ryan McBride was at the forefront of the thoughts of manager, Kenny Shiels and skipper, Gerard Doherty after the game and a tearful Low was no different when asked about the club’s former captain.
“It’s been tough since I’ve come here with what’s happened, both on and off the field. It’s a bit emotional to be honest but a special occasion for everyone involved.
“He’ll be looking down on us. It is hard. When I first came here he was the first one to speak to me that day in my first training session. We sat down and had a coffee at Foyle Arena, myself, him and Mikhail (Kennedy) for maybe two hours. He will be looking down and in the week of the renaming of the stadium it’s a great tribute to his family. So that one was for the big man!”