McEleney remains poised to return to Derry City at the end of the season having agreed a pre-contract with his hometown club on an initial two-year deal.
However, Higgins’ hopes of negotiating an early release for the star playmaker were dashed once Dundalk progressed in Europe.
It’s understood the financial incentive for Dundalk getting through in the UEFA Europa Conference League far outweighs the nominal fee Derry were prepared to offer for the player who is out of contract at the end of the year.
Indeed, a deal with Derry didn’t make financial sense for Dundalk’s owners who refused to sanction the sale of the 28 year-old, particularly ahead of Thursday night’s second leg tie against Levadia Tallinn in Estonia with the winners set to earn a further E550,000.
It’s believed Derry are in the market for a creative midfielder as a stop-gap until McEleney arrives and while Higgins refused to reveal potential targets, the City boss insists he’s continuing to work on strengthening his squad before tomorrow’s League of Ireland deadline.
“We might try and get one more player in before the window closes on Wednesday but we’re obviously still very aware that we can sign free agents until the end of August and that’s potentially an option for us as we look to strengthen,” said Higgins.
“As I said from the outset, we weren’t going to do loads of business in this window and we won’t. We just need to give the squad a boost. This is an extremely difficult window to secure long term deals but I don’t think we’re finished yet.”
One player who won’t be joining the Brandywell club is in-demand Cliftonville goalkeeper Aaron McCarey with the Candy Stripes understood to have pulled out of the race for his signature after protracted negotiations failed to bear fruit.
Meanwhile, Derry City are in the hat for Tuesday’s FAI Cup second round draw after Saturday’s dramatic penalty shootout victory over Drogheda United at the Head in the Game Park and Higgins insists his players should strive to go as far as possible in the competition.
“I’m just glad to be in the next round,” he said when asked who his preference was.
“We have a rich tradition in the cup and you have to be ambitious. A lot of our players are in the infancy of their careers and they should strive for big things and, listen, we’ll see who we get next and will prepare properly.
“We’ll definitely give it a rattle and see what happens.”