Derry City's preparations for Kazakhstan trip could've been 'a hell of a lot worse' says Ruaidhri Higgins

RUAIDHRI Higgins admits preparations for Derry City's Europa Conference League third round tie against Tobol in Kazakhstan could've been 'a hell of a lot worse'.
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The Derry team will board its 40 seater chartered flight to Kostanay on Tuesday at 9am and it's scheduled to take an estimated 10 hours including two fuel stops in Tbilisi and Budapest.

While negotiations continue with UEFA, the IFA and FAI over Derry's request to play its second leg at Windsor Park instead of Tallaght Stadium which was originally nominated by the club, plans for City's arduous jaunt to the far reaches of Eastern Europe have gone relatively smoothly.

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And Higgins was grateful to City chairman, Mr Philip O'Doherty and the club's office staff for ensuring their trip to Kazakhstan would allow adequate time for his team to acclimatise and prepare for Thursday's game.

Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins salutes fans at Brandywell.Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins salutes fans at Brandywell.
Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins salutes fans at Brandywell.

"It's a long journey ahead but what I would say is that Philip (O'Doherty) and the club have been absolutely brilliant the way we've been able to travel," said Higgins.

"We're very, very lucky to have the support we have here and it could've been a lot worse had we not been able to have our own aeroplane. So I just want to thank Philip and the club, they've looked after us as a group of players and staff. It's a long journey but it could've been a hell of a lot worse.

"We'll be staying in our own timezone," he added. "We're not staying long enough to change. I know it's plus five hours over there but we will be staying in our own time zone because it can get very messy if you don't," he explained.

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The City boss extended his thanks to the FAI and UCD for accommodating their request to postpone last Sunday's league fixture against the Students at the Belfield Bowl which gave the team an extra few days recovery and preparation time ahead of Thursday's clash.

"Both parties, Mark Scanlon from the FAI and UCD, were very understanding and cooperative and I'd like to thank them for letting us focus on preparations for our trip to Kazakhstan," added Higgins when asked about his team' preparations for the game.

Derry City are flying the flag in Europe for Irish teams both north and south of the border and with either Czech Republic opposition Viktoria Plzeňn or Gzira United of Malta - who put Glentoran out of the competition in the first round - waiting in the play-offs, Higgins' troops are on the cusp of another historic achievement for the club.

Should the tie remain in the balance after Thursday's away leg in Kazakhstan, Higgins will hope a large Derry City support travel to either Belfast or Dublin.

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The Brandywell Stadium does not meet the required UEFA criteria to host category three games and while the delay in the planned upgrade to the Mark Farren Stand promised by the NI Executive is far beyond the club's control, Higgins acknowledged 'it goes without saying' Derry City should have the facilities to play every qualifying game in Europe.

"I'm not going to get caught up in it,” Higgins said. “It's above my pay grade but it goes without saying.

"You've seen the impact our supporters have had against Torshavn and KuPS in the home legs at Brandywell and ideally you'd like to be playing here again. Unfortunately it's not going to be the case.”

"Our supporters have shown the capacity to travel really, really well and I'm sure if we bring a decent result home they will do that again.

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"It's not ideal of course and we want to play all our matches in Derry but it's not to be. I'm sure if we have an opportunity of getting through after the first leg then our supporters will travel in numbers as they always do.”

Derry City last played at Windsor in a Setanta Cup quarter-final back in 2012, a first leg which ended 1-1 ahead of a 2-1 victory for Declan Devine’s side at the Brandywell – a game Higgins featured in.