'I've made mistakes but first full season has been a success' – says Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins

RUAIDHRI Higgins has admitted to making mistakes during his first full year as Derry City manager and confessed he has regrets about how the 2022 league season panned out.
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However, after guiding the club to its highest league finish since 2006 and to a first FAI Cup final in eight years, the former City midfielder can’t be too frustrated with the last 10 months of his tenure.

Indeed, Higgins agrees he would have 'snapped your hand off' for such an achievement at the start of the year.

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Admittedly, the 2022 campaign has been a 'learning curve' for Higgins who saw his team run eventual champions Shamrock Rovers to the final three matches in an unexpected title challenge.

Ruaidhri Higgins is building something special at Derry City. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Moore/mciRuaidhri Higgins is building something special at Derry City. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Moore/mci
Ruaidhri Higgins is building something special at Derry City. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Moore/mci

Despite finishing 13 points behind Rovers, there's few who would argue Derry have closed the gap significantly and the head-to-heads between the league's top two clubs would suggest as much.

While City stuttered over the line into second place with two draws and two defeats from their final four league matches and having got over the initial frustration at not taking Rovers to the final game of the season, Higgins admits he's delighted with the progress made by the Candy Stripes this year.

Considering the 38 year-old Limavady man has been at the helm for just 18 months, Derry have evolved into a real force in the League of Ireland under his stewardship thanks to the financial backing of chairman, Mr Philip O'Doherty and the shrewd transfer business which began to reap dividends from the summer window.

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"Those people who say they don't have any regrets, I don't believe it," said Higgins after Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Dundalk when asked if he had any regrets about how the season concluded or decisions made over the course of the campaign.

"Of course I have regrets. It's my first full year as a manager and I'm going to make mistakes," he admitted. "I've made mistakes and I'll learn from them. That's what it's all about.

"Philip (O'Doherty) and the Board took a chance on me as an unproven manager and I think we've seen good progression.

"Last season I think went somewhat under the radar but the players were absolutely sensational. We finished in Europe from being bottom of the league and we've finished in second this year. So second place and a cup final is a major leap forward."

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There's no doubt there's been huge strides forward made under Higgins tenure and the arrival of some of the best players in the league has raised the expectation levels.

Getting your hand on a matchday ticket for Brandywell hasn't been an easy task this year which is testament to what Higgins is building on Foyleside.

That alone can be classed as significant progress both on and off the pitch as the city gets behind its team in great numbers once again.

And the fact the vast majority of players are under long term contracts offers continuity and security for this talented group of players who can build on a successful campaign.

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Higgins' mentor and one of the leading lights as far as League of Ireland managers go, Stephen Kenny was present in the Brandywell stands as Derry's league season drew to an underwhelming close on Sunday.

The Ireland boss is confident Higgins will become a long term success at Brandywell and he's excited about the prospect of next year's League of Ireland top flight with some of the country's best young 'innovative managers' battling it out for honours.

"I think Shamrock Rovers have real strength in depth," said Kenny. "Derry had a great second half of the season and came back.

"I think the league overall next year with Cork coming up, Shelbourne being in their second season, Damien Duff, Tim Clancy being in their second season . . .

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"Ruaidhri finishing second this year and pushing on. Stephen O'Donnell in his second season and John Russell in his second year, it's going to be really interesting," he predicted.

"Shamrock Rovers are obviously strong favourites to win it again and rightly so. They have a formidable squad. But you have all these young managers coming in and the standard of coaching is very high.

“All these young innovative managers who have their own distinctive style and all playing progressively which is really good to see.

"I think next season will be a really interesting league with a lot of teams improving again. Next year it will be a better league than this year."

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So with the league campaign put to bed for another year, Higgins can put his entire focus on the biggest game of his budding managerial reign.

Winning the FAI Cup as manager of Derry City would, he admits be the proudest moment of his football career.

And so things aren’t going too badly for a man who is building the foundations for sustained success on at Brandywell.

“It's 16 years since we finished second so if you had offered me second place and a cup final at the start of the season, absolutely I would have snapped your hand off,” he conceded.

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"Although we're a bit disappointed with the last few weeks, now that the league campaign is over, you've got to look at it over the whole piece and it's been fantastic progression and we just need to kick on going into the biggest week of the calendar year now with something to get really excited about.”

So how does he approach such a momentous occasion?

“You try to normalise it as much as possible. Obviously it's not normal. “It's a showpiece event. But we have to prepare as normal as possible, do our homework on the opposition and go down there next Sunday and give it a real go.

"Hopefully the last person out of Derry will be turning the lights off,” he smiled.

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