Derry City's Ciaron Harkin reflects on nagging self doubts and his return to form

CIARON ‘Jackie’ Harkin admits he’s been so wrapped up in self-doubt it had affected his performances but after weeks of soul-searching he’s rediscovered his natural strengths as a defence-minded midfielder.

Sunday, 25th April 2021, 9:45 pm
Updated Sunday, 25th April 2021, 9:46 pm
Derry City midfielder Ciaron Harkin charges down this attempted clearance by Sligo defender Regan Donelon. Picture by Kevin Moore.

The 25 year-old has previously admitted last season was the worst of his football career as he became disillusioned when reduced to a bit-part role at his hometown club.

Played out of position on the right wing and limited to just nine starts, Harkin suffered a crisis of confidence.

This season, firstly under Declan Devine and now new boss Ruaidhri Higgins, the former Coleraine man has been deployed back in his favoured central midfield position and recent performances against Dundalk and Sligo would suggest he’s fallen back in love with the game.

Tasked with man-marking Sligo’s David Cawley at the Showgrounds on Saturday, Harkin produced a ‘man of the match’ display and flourished in his role as midfield destroyer.

There’s never been a question mark over Harkin’s commitment or work ethic when wearing the Candy Stripes but now he believes he’s added discipline to his game and is playing with renewed belief.

“I enjoyed it,” he said after Saturday’s much needed 1-0 victory. “I’ve tried to be very disciplined over the last few games and tried to get stuck in more. I’d lost that in my game. In my own head, I’d been trying to figure out what I’m good at. As we haven’t been playing well and have had a bad start to the season, I lost confidence and have tried to figure out what I’m good at. I’ve tried to focus on what I do best.

“I like playing that deeper role in midfield and being disciplined. That’s something I’m going to work on now and try to keep getting better at it. Obviously that helps the team as well everyone is doing their job and being disciplined.”

New manager Higgins didn’t have sufficient time to talk to each player individually following his quick-fire appointment on Friday and with just one training session with his new players it would’ve been difficult to make a significant impact on the team.

The former midfielder did, however, manage to ensure the team was more organised defensively and Harkin hopes Higgins can help the club climb the table quickly.

“There’s not really anything I can point out about what he’s like as it’s too early. We met him yesterday (Friday) and had a chat today about the game but he hasn’t had the time to have any individual chats yet. It’s new and the performance today has been good. Hopefully he can make us better because we need to jump up this table as quick as possible.

“The club has given him a three and a half year deal so hopefully we can get better and you never know what we can do.

“He was a midfielder as well and will be able to help me in my game. That’s something I’d like him to do, to teach me to be more disciplined and to be better on the ball. It’s something he can do. It’s obviously his first job in management and I’m looking forward to it, hopefully he can drive us on.”

However Harkin didn’t believe Saturday’s result was down to a ‘new manager bounce ‘ and said the elusive win had been coming. Regardless, getting the three points lifted a sizable weight off the players’ shoulders but Harkin warned they must build on the performance if they’re to get out of trouble.

“It wasn’t just about getting Ruaidhri off the mark, it was about getting ourselves off the mark. I’m just glad to get the first three points. We’ve been looking for the win for weeks now and it’s just something that, as a team, we needed. A lot of boys have been flat and Derry City haven’t got a win in a long time so the feeling is great. I just hope it drives us on now.

“It’s a long time since we won a football match and it’s been playing in our heads. The teams I’ve played for in the past, I’ve won a lot of games, even with Derry the year before last, we won a lot of games and there was a good feeling.

“Obviously last year and the start of this year, not winning games isn’t a good thing to get used to. Hopefully that will push us on and we can maintain that good feeling that comes with winning and we start to climb that table.”

The swift change in management must have been difficult to come to terms with for the players but Harkin insists the mood in the camp remains positive.

“A lot of people asked me what was going on over the last few weeks. It’s a question that just keeps coming up, ‘What’s the mood like in the camp?’ but there’s a good mood in the camp.

You would’ve seen that and in Decky’s interviews. He has said there’s been a good mood, everybody likes each other and we’re getting on well. It’s just this win hasn’t come.

“We’ve been grinding it out this last few weeks and it has been coming. The performances have been getting better and the lads have been getting stuck in. Hopefully we can get better.

Today we dug in and ground out that win. To get better and better every week is the aim now.

“It’s good to get the weight off our shoulders. We haven’t won a football match in a while but we can’t take our foot off the gas because we’ve won one. It’s a long season. It’s not about winning one football match, it’s about getting as many points as you can throughout the whole season and winning as many matches we can so we have to keep getting better every week.

“There might be a few upsets throughout but we will keep driving on and getting better and see what we can do this year.”