"If it wasn't a club like Larne I would think I would still be at Derry City.": Joe Thomson
JOE THOMSON says he will never forget his memorable spell at Derry City and will be forever grateful to the club for reviving his career after a serious knee injury.
The 25 year-old former Celtic midfielder was reluctant to leave the Brandywell club before the expiration of his contract and only when it became clear he wasn't guaranteed game-time next season, he began to assess his options.
He had several suitors but eventually agreed a two-and-a-half year deal with Larne as part of the Ben Doherty deal who went the opposite direction.
"It all happened so quickly," he said. "I obviously seen the story in the paper but didn't think it was happening and then I got a call the night before I signed to confirm it.
"I knew it was going on but thought it was more paper talk than anything and there was no real truth behind it until the night before.
"I just think he (Higgins) maybe wanted to go with a different style and he knew with the kind of person and character I am, I wasn't guaranteed to play 90 minutes every week, so he knows I'm the sort who wants to go out there and play every minute and couldn't guarantee it so it gave me a decision to make.
"I wouldn't say I wanted to leave. If it wasn't a club like Larne I would think I would still be at Derry."
He’s had time to digest everything this week, and the Paisley native is excited about his future both on and off the pitch with the Inver Reds battling on several fronts while his partner Francesca is expecting the couple’s third child next week.
So while he leaves the Lone Moor Road club with 'no hard feelings' and a heavy heart, there's plenty to look forward to in the coming months as he begins the next chapter of his senior career at a club with lofty ambitions at Inver Park.
"Obviously Derry gave me the opportunity to come back into football," explained Thomson who spent months out of the game after sustaining a tear in his ACL while at Dunfermline in May 2019.
"I hadn't played any football for a year-and-a-half after a knee operation and with Covid. I'd like to thank Paddy McCourt in particular for believing me at that time. He spoke to people about me and ultimately gave me the platform to come back after a serious injury."
Playing under both Declan Devine and Higgins, Thomson went on to make 79 appearances for the Candy Stripes, scoring 10 times and he believes his experience on Foyleside has made him hungrier for success.
"It was my first taste playing in senior European competitions. I scored a goal in Europe and it's great experience that just makes you want more, like the FAI Cup final. It just makes you hungry to be successful.
"Winning trophies is probably the hardest thing to do in football so it's a great achievement for everyone involved, not just the players but everyone behind the scenes, they put in so much work. They're some of the most hard working people I've come across in football and they obviously make it possible for us to go out onto the pitch and play well.
"I've been treated brilliantly here by the people of Derry and by my teammates and everyone since I've come here. So it was just nice to be a part of something and to give a small bit back with the Cup Final win because I know how much it meant to people that day.
"To be a part of that was good and something that will live with me. It was my first major trophy in football so I'll never forget it."
It was far from an easy transition when moving away from Scotland for the first time back in 2020 but Thomson, whose family are in no rush to leave their home in Derry, he hopes he will be fondly remembered by the City fans for his contribution.
"Hopefully I'll be remembered for somebody who, no matter what, epitomised what the people of Derry are about. Everybody in Derry, from what I've learned having lived here and having been here for the last two and half years is they've had to work for everything they've had in their lives. So they like seeing players who give their all.
"When I first came I was a bit scared. It was the first time I was living away from home and I didn't know what to expect. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. I absolutely loved every minute of it. It was the best changing room I've ever been in."
There's been much change in the City dressing room since he first arrived with just Ciaron Harkin and Ciaran Coll remaining from the 2020 season.
He believes Derry can go on and win the league title next season and believes the strong bond between the players can be the key to success.
"I know there's some really talented players there but I think the strongest thing just now at Derry is the changing room. I've never seen such a tight bond between the boys. Everybody gets on so well and would do anything for each other. When you've got that it gives you an extra five or 10 per cent and it can lead to points throughout the season whenever you're not playing your best. So that's the biggest thing.
"For the lads I hope they can win the league. I definitely think they have enough quality.
"I fully expect them to get through a couple rounds of Europe and challenge for the league and maybe get a great day out again at the end of the season with another FAI Cup final. I made a lot of good friends at Derry so I'll be hoping the lads do well.”