Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins hails 'Captain Fantastic' Patrick McEleney
RUAIDHRI Higgins is running out of plaudits for Patrick McEleney after describing his skipper's display against Dundalk as 'one of the best midfield performances I've ever seen in this league'.
High praise indeed but Higgins is well placed to judge as a former midfielder and someone who has won the lot during his long association with the League of Ireland.
Three-times league champion, McEleney, is a serial winner and did his utmost to drive City to victory against a Dundalk team who clung on desperately for a valuable point.
The Shantallow man was visibly annoyed that Derry didn't manage to break down Dundalk's resolute defence but Higgins was lavish in his praise of the midfielder for grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck once again.
"I'm going to make a bit of a statement and say Patrick McEleney, for 70 minutes, (produced) one of the best midfield performances I've ever seen in this league," said Higgins afterwards.
"For 70 minutes he was incredible, like levels above. He was a real driving force tonight. He's an amazing footballer and that's why he's captain of this club because it's a big game and he puts in a performance like that."
When those comments were put to McEleney several minutes afterwards, the Derry captain was still scratching his head and more concerned about working out how his team didn't claim their third win in seven days.
"At the minute I'm just thinking about us not winning the game, that's all I can think about. Once I chill out and watch it back I'll have a different thought on it but winning is number one," said the Derry captain.
"I felt good but I felt like there was just one team trying to go on and win it and it's disappointing when you don't get over the line," added McEleney, "I'm annoyed we didn't win. We completely dominated and just couldn't score. I'll definitely take positives from it once I detach myself from it.
"We performed well, it's just the final touch wasn't there. When it gets to the final third we need to go up levels, myself included. I missed a header from a corner and should have scored. There were loads of moments but whenever we get in there we need that killer instinct.
"We've played worse and won this year. Look, you still be emotional because it's still close to the game. You probably need to go away and reflect on it but the performance level was there.
"The pressure was there and there was only one team trying to win the game. Once I sit back and relax I'll definitely take positives from it like the clean sheet, the performance and things like that but we just want to win every game and sometimes you just can't."
Disappointment and frustration were the skipper’s overriding emotions but he believes, on reflection, the a point might not be the worst result after a busy week.
"It's a good return (seven points from three games) but I still feel like we should've won the game. Obviously we're disappointed in it but the performance was there so we'll try to build on that."
Derry have come out unscathed from their opening five games which has included games against three of the pre-season favourites to compete for honours this year in St Pat's, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers.
When asked if he felt Derry were better equipped to last the distance in the title race this season, McEleney answered: "It's a tough one to answer because we started so well last year and sort of fell off a cliff at a stage before coming back to ourselves.
"It seems to be like a slow build. We obviously have numbers out at the minute and I'm just hoping we hit our peak at some stage. It’s been a very good start."