CREGGAN lad, Ciaron Harkin admits he wasn’t ready for full-time football with Derry City when he left to join Institute in 2015, but it was always his intention to one day return to his hometown club.
Harkin returned to Foyleside this week after signing a two-year contract with the Candy Stripes and says he’s determined to make the grade in the League of Ireland this time around.
Following his two-year stint with ’Stute, the midfielder went on to reach two Irish Cup Finals with Coleraine, winning one, while the Bannsiders were edged out by Crusaders in the league title race last season.
With more than 90 senior appearances under his belt, not to mention four appearances in European competition, Harkin believes it was the perfect time to return home.
Coleraine manager, Rodney McAree said Harkin’s ‘love for Derry City made the move a possibility’ and the player was delighted to finalise the deal this week.
“It is a great move for me and, as everybody knows, it’s where I want to be,” he said. “Being at Coleraine I was getting a lot of experience playing senior football but Derry City is where I want to be. Playing full-time football is what I want to be doing and to better myself. So I am looking forward to playing for Derry City - it’s where I want to be.
“I’ve played in some big games, I’ve played in Europe. I’ve been involved with the Northern Ireland U21s and I’ve played for Coleraine in two cup finals and challenged for the league.
“When I left Derry I wasn’t ready for the first team, that’s the reason I left. Now, I feel I am ready to play for Derry City’s first team. I’m not going to be that young boy who couldn’t get into the team anymore.
“Leaving Derry and getting senior football has only helped me.”
Harkin enjoyed working under Oran Kearney at Coleraine and he believes Declan Devine has a similar man-management style.
“When I spoke to Decky I found him similar to Oran (Kearney). He’s looking to man-manage his players like Oran did. As everyone knows Oran is a top manager and that’s another reason why it excited me.”
Despite his undoubted ability, there remain some who question whether he can step up to the physical nature of the League of Ireland. However, he’s prepared to work with Devine and the City backroom team to ensure he’s fully prepared for the challenges ahead.
“The two leagues are different. There’s a lot more football played in the League of Ireland than in the Irish League. That’s what the full-time training is about and I look forward to that.
“There are some things I need to develop in my game, positional-wise and playing the League of Ireland way but that’s what pre-season is for - to prepare you for the start of the season.
“I don’t have much experience in the League of Ireland but a lot of teams won’t know much about me either. Coming in pre-season I’ll make sure I’m ready for the start of the season and make sure I’m ready to play for Derry City.
“Growing up I went to every game watching Derry City and it’s a dream to play for them now. I’ve got my chance and now I need to take it with both hands, work really hard and make myself a career here.”
Derry boss, Devine was delighted to secure the services of Harkin and says the player epitomises everything Derry should be about.
“He has a bit of fight, a bit of guts and hunger and is somebody who really wants to pull on that red and white jersey.”
And Devine has no doubts Harkin can make the step up to full-time football this season.
“Ciaron Harkin has 96 games in Irish League football. He’s won an Irish Cup and played four times in Europe. You don’t do that unless you have a bit about you.
“Does he need to get stronger? It doesn’t matter how strong you are if you move the ball quick enough you can get into my team. He’s a good player and one I respect.”