Derry City keeper Brian Maher excited for his first North West derby experience at Finn Harps

BRIAN Maher admits Ruaidhri Higgins’ passion for Derry City Football Club has rubbed off on the team’s new recruits who have quickly come to understand what it means to represent the Brandywell outfit.

Since arriving at the club Maher has also been impressed by Derry’s passionate fanbase and hopes the Candy Stripes can repay their support with the bragging rights from his first experience of the North West derby against Finn Harps in Ballybofey on Saturday.

“You’ve got a good group of people from Derry in the squad and Ruaidhri and those boys let you know how much it means to play for Derry and how much it means to the fans. To be honest, it rubs off on us all.

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“I’m not from Derry, yet we’re all doing everything in our power to try and win football matches for this club. You can see how much it means. Especially with the lads scoring the last minute winners, you can see the support we get even when we’re in Dublin.

Derry City goalkeeper Brian Maher comes to clear the danger in Monday's win over UCD. Photograph by Kevin Moore.

“Being from Dublin I know how difficult that trip is, especially on a Monday night to come down and watch us in UCD. That’s brilliant from the fans and they’re a credit to the club. You can see how much football and being from Derry means to them.

“I’m really looking forward to the Harps game,” added the Dubliner. “It’s probably one of the games when you come to play for Derry you look forward to most, playing in a derby. They’ve already sold all the tickets for the away fans so it’s definitely one to look forward to.”

These are exactly the type of games Maher came to Derry to play in and after his encouraging start for the club, he’s confident he made the right move arriving from Bray Wanderers in the close season.

The Ireland U21 keeper made the decision to leave Dublin and move to Foyleside on a long term contract this year but that move was justified as he quickly established himself as the team’s No.1.

“When I signed for Derry I saw it written that there were offers from Dublin clubs but I think once I had spoken to Ruaidhri my mind was pretty much made up. I don’t regret it.

“I’m really enjoying it. The coaches have been brilliant and we have a really, really good group. Maybe some people would’ve looked at it as a risk but I looked at it as a massive opportunity.

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“It’s a massive football club. You just look at the fans and see how the club is backed and the way football is treated in the city as massive and it’s the kind of club you want to play for.

“To be honest it turned into a bit of a no brainer by the time I was signing for Derry.”

Maher is braced for a tough challenge posed by a physical Finn Harps outfit intent on taking the scalp of their near neighbours on a pitch not exactly suited to Derry’s strengths.

He can expect to be bombarded by long balls and Harps’ effectiveness from set-piece situations will certainly test the City stopper whose physical stature has been questioned in some quarters.

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The 20 year-old isn’t one to shirk a challenge, however, and has full confidence in his own ability, particularly with the trust Higgins has invested in him.

“I’ve grown up with that (doubts about his physicality) and you get used to it but everyone is entitled to their opinion, whether I agree with that or not it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t bother me. I just focus on how I play. I’m happy and don’t really listen to outside noises.”

Maher has flourished under Higgins and his distribution with his feet, his decision-making, calmness in pressure situations and shot-stopping with both Derry and Ireland U21, most recently in the Euros qualifier against Sweden, have enhanced his credentials.

“It’s the way I enjoy playing football. I grew up playing that way. He’s (Higgins) put a lot of trust in me and obviously I appreciate that. It’s nice to feel that from your manager, that trust and belief in the way you play. He trusts that you’re good enough to go and do it.

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“I really appreciate it and really enjoy the way we play. I think we’re seeing the benefits of the way we play. I’m really glad Ruaidhri put his trust in me.”

A fourth clean sheet of the season on Saturday night would ensure Derry finish the first series of matches unbeaten but Maher expects Harps to test their resolve - a challenge Derry are prepared to meet head on.

“We’ve already shown, with the late goals especially, that this team will dig deep if we need to. We’ve got a really good group and we’ll go there and do our best to win.

“It will be a big challenge for us. It’s a big derby game of course,

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“They always have a big turnover of players in the off season and yet Ollie Horgan still always seems to put a very good team together. You know what you’re going to get with them. It will be a big challenge but one we’re looking forward to,” added Maher who has shipped just five goals in eight games so far.

“We’ve just got to treat it as we treat every game. We’ll do our same preparation and look at Finn Harps and what we can do ourselves.

“We’ve got off to a good start but that’s all it is. We’re not even a quarter of a way through so there’s a long, long way to go.

“By no means are we getting ahead of ourselves but we’re in a position we’d like to be and if we get another win on Saturday that will be the first series done and we’d be top of the table so I think if you offered us that after nine games we’d take that.”

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