Higgins hails Derry debutante Evan McLaughlin: 'I don't care about size or age, he caught my eye from the word go'

RUAIDHRI HIGGINS believes Derry City has unearthed another 'real talent' in teenager Evan McLaughlin after the former Foyle Harps man celebrated his senior debut with the opening goal in the victory over Waterford at Brandywell.

Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 1:20 am
Updated Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 1:22 am
Eoin Toal celebrates with goalscorer Evan McLaughlin after his breakthrough strike in the first half. Photography by Kevin Moore.

Higgins offered the youngster his first professional contract this week having been suitably impressed with his performances and attitude when playing for the club's U19s in recent weeks.

The Limavady man felt he had to 'trust my eye' and rewarded the Derry lad with his first start for the Candy Stripes in front of the biggest attendance of the season on Friday night.

It was a decision Higgins made early in the week but he didn't give McLaughlin time to over-think his first appearance for the club as he broke the news to him a couple of hours before taking to the field.

It was a brave decision and one rewarded with an impressive performance as McLaughlin opened the scoring just before the break. Playing in the No. 10 role, McLaughlin had a couple of chances in front of goal before his shot on the 43rd minute fortuitously wrong-footed Brian Murphy and found the corner of the net.

Higgins was delighted with his performance and said the local lad should be 'proud' of his contribution on the night.

"He was excellent," said the City manager. "He's been in and around us for the last month or so. I've been at all the U19s games recently and he's caught my eye and you have to trust your own eyes.

"I love that left footed midfield player. I think it gives the team really good balance. I'm not comparing him to Will Patching at all but I just think he gives us good balance in that area of the pitch. So I just felt for the balance of the team it was the right way to go and he didn't let me down. I'm sure his family are very proud tonight."

He might be small in stature but McLaughlin displayed a fearless attitude and his performance didn't surprise Higgins.

"He's got real composure but he's got a big heart as well. I know he's not the biggest in the world but he makes up for it with his passion and heart. He's a really good player and I've seen that for the last month or so.

"He's a real talent and I was keen to get him on a contract a few weeks ago and thankfully we got it done. I think it's a great place for him now to develop as a player so it's a great start for him. He could have had a couple of goals but we'll take one on his debut," smiled Higgins.

"But from minute one I've loved him. I don't care about size or age. I really don't. He just caught my eye from the word go," added Higgins. "I knew on Monday or Tuesday he was going to be playing but he didn't know until half five today.

"I think he's been rewarded for what I've seen over the last month or so. He's taken his opportunity. It's still very early in his development but I think he's a real talent. Those left footed central midfielders are hard to come by. He should be proud of his home debut."

Overall it was a dominant display by Higgins' side. Derry were previously the only team in the top flight without a home win and so Higgins was delighted to finally end that unwanted 10 game streak. And the sweetest part of the win was he doesn't have to face any more questions about the club's barren Brandywell record.

"I'm sick of people asking me this question (about Derry's home form)" said Higgins. "I think our home results have not been great but our performances have been getting better and better and tonight gets rid of you boys asking me that question," he said.

"I thought it was a good performance. First half I thought we had total control but our final ball was maybe lacking at times but we were getting into good areas of the pitch and caused them problems.

"As I said, I would've liked our final ball to be slightly better but we got our goal at a good time and were able to build from that in the second half."

With 480 fans in the stands, Higgins felt the atmosphere made a big difference and he was happy the home support had something to celebrate.

The fans were a huge help and I think this place is a great place to play your football when there's spectators in. I actually got a real buzz watching people coming in and getting up into their seats. It gives you a real buzz and I hope they went home happy.

"I'm happy with the performance. We have a lot of good players here and they're growing in confidence week by week. Although we lost last week we took heart from our second half performance. I thought tonight was a good home performance but we won't get carried away at all. We'll recover tomorrow. Some of the lads will train who did not feature. We'll give them the day off on Sunday and then come in Monday and get fully focussed on going to St Pats and getting a good result."

Derry fans got their first glimpse of new signing Jamie McGonigle who made an impact from the bench in the second half while former fans favourite Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe led the line before coming off late with cramp. Higgins was delighted with both his new signings and believes there's plenty more to come from both.

"I thought our bench was strong and gave us an impetus in the game as well. As a manager that's a massive help. Junior hasn't played in a good while and considering that I thought his performance was very good.

"I thought bringing Jamie on, he looked sharp and had a couple of half chances as well. Jamie literally played about five weeks ago for Crusaders and hasn't really done anything since but I felt he could've made an impact tonight with the way the game was and where the space was. I felt he could exploit it and he looked bright. So I look forward to seeing Jamie McGonigle when he's fully fit. I don't want to single people out because, by and large, they were all very good. I'm delighted with the performance and result."