Derry City vs Riga: Brian Maher believes Derry City can 'do something special' in Europe this year
BRIAN Maher believes Derry City can 'do something special' with the Brandywell crowd behind them on Thursday night and write a new chapter in the club's rich European history.
The Candy Stripes have enjoyed some memorable adventures in European club competition through the years but Maher wants to create some unforgettable moments of his own with an extended run in this season's UEFA Conference League.
Derry became the first Irish side to win through a round in Europe when defeating FK Lyn in 1965. They went to the home of two times European Cup winners Benfica in 1989 on the back of a 2-1 defeat at Brandywell and lost 4-0 to a team boasting several FIFA World Cup winners and managed by Sven Goran Erikson.
And who could forget that magical UEFA Cup journey in 2006 when defeating Gothenburg, Gretna and finally losing to Paris St Germain at the Parc des Princes.
Those moments rank amongst the most cherished of the club's ventures on the continent but Maher wants the current Derry team to be talked about in a similar light when this season's campaign comes to a conclusion.
It will take a mammoth effort and a fair share of fortune if they're to get through a round or two of UEFA's third tier club competition but Maher insists Derry are well equipped to pull off a shock against Latvian outfit Riga who are ranked 220 places above them in UEFA's club standings.
"When you hear all those stories and what other Derry teams have done you want to put your team in there and want people to be speaking about what we achieved and that will be the goal for us to give people memories and make some of our own as well with good results," said the City keeper.
"We've got really good players as well and experienced players in the right places on the pitch and that can really get us through games. "People who have been on runs in Europe already, people like Patrick (McEleney). I think we're in a good place going into these games and hopefully we can come out on the right side."
Maher hopes the Brandywell support is in fine voice to help them clinch a valuable victory they can take to the Latvian capital next week.
"It's a huge day for the fans and for the club and for us as well. It's games like this we want to play in. But it's not just games we want to play, it's games we want to win. We want to go through rounds and want to try and put a little run together if we can.
"Of course it's a big game and they are a very good team but we're also a very good team. We've started to show it again and we've shown it nearly all year how dangerous we can be and how we can hurt other teams. So it's a game we're looking forward to.
"Hopefully we get a big crowd who can drive us on and maybe it can be one of those nights hopefully that we can go and do something special.
"The home support, it's massive. You can see that with the start of the season and the late goals. I can think of nearly every game we've played at home this year we've finished stronger. The fans drive us on and give us brilliant support. I even get it around the city during the week, 'best of luck' and stuff like that. Everyone is looking forward to it and hopefully now they can create a massive atmosphere for it."
It's been a special year for the Ireland U21 international No.1 who has been a major part of Jim Craford's team who are on the verge of becoming the first U21 Irish team to qualify for the European Championships.
After a record-breaking qualifying campaign which has brought the Irish to a play-off against Israel in September, Maher hopes his experience with the international set-up will help prepare him for his first taste of European club competition.
"I've got plenty of experience right through the ages, going to difficult places and having to get results and different ways teams play and different atmospheres. So hopefully that will stand to me with this European game. I have that experience behind me to hopefully put in performances."
The Dubliner might not have the same European pedigree as Riga who have been twice on the brink of qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League but Maher doesn't read too much into past glories.
"We will treat it like any other game. We will do our work on them during the week and they still have to come here and play in front of a packed out crowd which will be difficult for them.
"Sometimes you don't read too much into that stuff. In our league teams can change from nearly year to year so you don't read too much into the history and just look at the here and now and how they play now and who they've got now."
"I think, like every game, we will be going into it trying to win. There will be no settling for results. We want to win the game. We will do our work this week to try and win it."