Colm Whelan's ACL injury opened doors for Derry City move amid English interest: Ruaidhri Higgins
RUAIDHRI Higgins believes the timing of Colm Whelan's devastating ACL injury sustained last May ultimately opened the doors for the ex-UCD hitman's move to Derry City.
The 22 year-old Kilkenny native was attracting attention from clubs in the English Championship and League One while Shamrock Rovers were also reportedly hunting down his signature as one of the hottest prospects in the League of Ireland.
He had scored four goals in the Premier Division before he ruptured his ACL against Finn Harps in Ballybofey, an untimely blow which put any proposed move to England on the backburner.
Interest from Championship clubs cooled somewhat after that but Derry wasted no time to pounce and Higgins believes the injury perhaps worked in his team's favour as he convinced the player to sign a two year deal.
"Obviously he's had a tough few months hence why we've probably been able to get him because I feel if it hadn't happened we wouldn't have got him and he would be elsewhere in a different country," said Higgins as the player was officially unveiled at Brandywell on Wednesday morning.
"He did have interest from other clubs as well so we're delighted to see off that interest and he sees his next chapter here.
"We've been able to secure his signature but I don't feel we would've been able to if that injury didn't happen back in May," he repeated.
Higgins and his assistant Alan Reynolds made their approach in the summer and convinced the striker a move north to Foyleside to join an exciting, ambitious Derry City team, was in his best interests.
The fact Reynolds coached Whelan while manager of Waterford in 2017 and with the Ireland U21s this year, would certainly have helped with the flow of that opening conversation.
Reynolds knew the player on a personal level but Higgins was fully aware of the potential of a striker who netted 25 times for UCD in 2021 and who ranks fourth in the Students' all time highest goalscorers list, ahead of the likes of David McMillan, Gary O'Neill and Georgie Kelly!
"There was still interest from England and there were other clubs but we met him back in the summer," explained Higgins. "UCD have been brilliant to deal with, really professional, Diarmuid McNally, Andy Myler, all the people there, their medical team liaising with our medical team, it's been brilliant. We're delighted to get him here.
"We met him together, myself and 'Rennie' who obviously has been full of praise for him. I didn't need to be told how good of a player he was, I knew. Obviously 'Rennie' knew him personally which was a help and it was good to have that relationship there but I know all about him. We've done our homework."
Clearly the player has talent and knows where the back of the net is but does Higgins believe he's taking a gamble in signing a player who is continuing his recovery from a serious, long term injury setback?
"Ciaron Harkin's injury (recurrence) was a freak!," answered Higgins. "Players more often than not come back better and stronger from a cruciate injury, the list is endless and I don't expect this to be any different.
"We'll be patient with him. We'll not rush him back. He'll be ready when he's ready. He's signed for a couple of years and he adds to what is already a good frontline."
It's likely he'll miss the start of the season but when he does return he provides Higgins with some tasty attacking options and the Limavady native believes he could be the missing link.
"He's a born goalscorer. He scores all sorts of goals; right foot, left foot, from distance, close range, brilliant goals, tap-ins, whatever.
"In certain games this year where we've been dominant and there's been balls flashing across the face of the goal, that's him! Our other strikers bring different qualities but he will score goals here once he's fit and ready and enjoying his football.
"We have different types. At times in certain games you might play all three of them and you could pair any of them up with each other.
"We don't want to be one dimensional. We need to have different strings to our bow and come up with different ways of playing and in certain matches I wouldn't rule that out either.
"He's got two in three for UCD. In the season before the one that's just finished he scored 25 in 31 and 10 or 11 assists as well, so he's not bad," he smiled.
"We want players that are young and hungry and who are determined to be successful and I fully expect that if he comes here and kicks on then there's bigger and better things ahead for him."