DECLAN DEVINE claims qualifying for the Europa League this season is the biggest achievement of his two spells as manager of Derry City Football Club.
The Creggan man has lifted the FAI Cup with his hometown club at the Aviva Stadium in 2012 and twice led the Candy Stripes to Europe during his first reign.
However, after Friday night's impressive 4-0 victory over rivals, Finn Harps - his 100th league match in charge - clinched European football for the Brandywell club, Devine ranks the achievement as his best ever managerial success.
Given the club finished in eighth spot last season and Devine inherited a squad of just FOUR signed players, the former City goalkeeper believes it's been a 'magnificent' conclusion to the 2019 campaign and one which will live long in the memory.
"Very much so," he said. "We were selling a pipedream to players in December. We signed two or three players which took us up to five players. The place didn't have the most positive feel about it when we came in last November because of the season last year.
"It was very, very difficult. We went to the Isle of Man for a pre-season camp with 12 or 13 players. We've been magnificent. We went to very difficult venues and performed and to see the Brandywell full again, that's definitely my biggest achievement. The cup final was special and let's see where we go in the future but tonight is a night I'll not forget for a long time."
When he returned to the club for his second spell last November, Devine was adamant that Derry City should be competing for honours but he admits that the 2019 campaign exceeded his expectations having run Dundalk so close in the EA Sports Cup Final and qualified for Europe courtesy of a fourth place finish.
"I didn't really think about achieving Europe to be honest," he continued. "I wanted us to get a good start and see where we were. I wanted a team that reflects the passion of the football club and honesty and work ethic of the football club.
"I watched last year and teams were coming from Dublin and Cork and they were walking in here and walking back out with three points and I didn't like that. I liked it this year that if you want to come here and win, you have to do something special to get it.
"Our guys fight for the club, fight for the city and fight for their families. Add into that they're not only fighting but putting on a brilliant display of attacking football, scoring a lot of goals and creating a lot of chances. The players deserve huge credit and I'm just over the moon for them today."
Devine and his backroom team have breathed new life into the club and he insists it's been a proper team effort.
"It takes a lot of effort but I'm very fortunate that I have Kevin (Deery) and Paddy (McCourt) and Marty (McCann) and Declan McIntrye and all the backroom team were pulling in the one direction. Those guys have put their life and soul into it.
"There's a lot of good people at this football club. We all share a work ethic, we all work extremely hard but it's not about me. It's about the players doing their jobs extremely well.
We want to push on.
"Coming off the pitch tonight there was supporters there who were eight, nine, 10 years of age. There were supporters who were in their 70s,. It's a fantastic club and it's something we should all enjoy.
"It's a fantastic night for us but we have to strive to get better and not pat ourselves on the back too much. It's going to be harder next year and I'm sure a lot of clubs will put a lot of investment into it.
"But I'm just over the moon tonight. It will take me a little while to digest it and soak it up but when you see what it means to people, supporters and kids on the pitch and office staff, Council staff, everyone here tonight has smiles on their faces and that on its own is a marvelous achievement.
"When everyone is pulling in the one direction at a football club it certainly makes life easier. When you have negative forces pulling in different ways it makes it difficult. The pleasing thing for me is that from top to bottom the whole football club has been pulling in the one direction to bring success. That starts with the players and staff but don't underestimate what goes on behind the scenes on a daily basis.
"We also thank people like Josh Kerr, Eoghan Stokes and Gianni Seraf, all the people who have left the club. They have played a part as well. It's been a team effort right from the very start.
The recruitment process and diligence in terms of speaking to players was key and again, Paddy, Kevin and Marty were all instrumental in that. We have to enjoy tonight but we have to understand we have to strive to get better. This was just a taster and we have to come back again in the same frame of mind."
At half-time Derry had risen to third place in the table as Bohemians trailed Sligo Rovers 1-0 in Dalymount but the Gypsies turned it around, winning 2-1 in the end and City had to settled with fourth. Regardless, it was a proud moment for Devine who was delighted to lead his hometown into Europe.
"It was a special moment," he beamed. "It's my third year as a manager and I've qualified for Europe three times. It was magnificent when you look around and see your family and children.
"Given the work you put in they don't see you from one day to the next. But when you look around and see the smiles on their faces and on the faces of our supporters then it makes it all worthwhile.
"We finished fourth but we want to push on and get better next year. Ultimately it's about enjoying tonight and making sure the players get their rewards for what they've done all year which is incredible."