DECLAN DEVINE believes qualification for Europe at the end of the 2020 season would put Derry City in a promising position to challenge for the SSE Airtricity Premier Division title.
The Derry boss insists qualification for the Europa League for consecutive seasons is imperative given the introduction of the new UEFA Europa Conference League which gets underway in 2021 - a third tier of European competition which will guarantee extra prize money for participants.
The Candy Stripes are guaranteed a financial windfall of at least £240,000 following their qualification for next season's Europa League preliminary round through their fourth place finish in the Airtricity Premier Division last year.
However, Devine isn't content with just one match in Europe and is hoping for an extended run of games, significant prizemoney which would help launch an assault on the league title in the coming seasons.
"You have to set the bar high," said the City boss. "Why can't we challenge for the league? Why don't we try and win a cup? Why not try to get back to the Aviva? If you settle for mediocrity you get mediocrity. God knows what we can achieve but let's set the bar high and bring a trophy back here and sit here next year with a bit of silverware," he told supporters at Monday night's Review of the Season event at Magee University.
"I want to try and win the FAI Cup again." he said when asked what his ambitions for 2020 were. "Realistically, winning the league is going to be extremely difficult but we're going to try. "Where we are at this time, I think if we were to qualify for Europe again we would be in a very strong position. To qualify for Europe two years on the spin would put us on a really good footing," he added.
"Next year in Europe is going to be massive because they're bringing in an extra competition where if you actually lose in the Europa League you go down to this Conference League which again gives you another two or three games."
Devine hopes to improve on last season's fourth place finish but he knows that teams like St Pat's and Sligo Rovers will be strengthening in the close season as next season's Premier Division is expected to be hotly contested.
"Europe is where it's at. I would want to qualify for Europe every year but let's not underestimate (the opposition) because Pats are coming strong this year, as are Sligo and Shelbourne are throwing big money at it this year. We've got to get better. Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk and Bohemians will be better so we need everybody pulling in the right direction. And we can only put top players on the pitch if the Brandywell is full every week.
"Our target will be to try and improve on this year. We have exceeded expectations this year in my opinion but the reality is we've done it now we want to get better, We want to try and win a game in Europe because you work so hard for the year to get into Europe and you get the financial windfall of £240,000 but if you win one game and one tie you get that again.
"So the financial windfall of winning a game in Europe is key for us as well. There's so many different targets that we've set ourselves and we will set the playing staff when they come in next January but ultimately we want to get better."
And Decine reckons the fact Derry are in Europe next year will help with recruitment and attracting top players to Foylside.
"Playing in Europe is definitely something that helps (attract players)," he agreed. "I remember Stuart Greacen playing against Trabzonspor and he had a career of 15, 16 years in the game and he had never played European football. That was one of his highlights of his career. There will be other players who haven't experienced European football and again, it's all very much down to the luck of the draw.
"The first year I qualified for Europe we got Trabzonspor who had an £48 million budget. The second year I qualified for Europe and Peter Hutton managed the team against Welsh side, Aberystwyth and progressed through that round. So it's very much luck of the draw in terms of who you get but ultimately you want to get through at least a tie or two.
"If you can do that then all of a sudden you're 200 odd thousand ends up either £580,000 or 700 odd thousand in prizemoney. Ultimately it's about the prize money and filling the Brandywell and trying to get through a few rounds as well."