Shamrock Rovers' title party has fuelled Derry City's hunger for success says Ruaidhri Higgins

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AS DERRY City's downcast players made their way onto the team bus parked in front of Tallaght Stadium, they were confronted by a stream of jubilant Shamrock Rovers fans who began to file out of the ground fresh from watching the Dublin club's 20th league title celebrations.

City boss Ruaidhri Higgins was subjected to a chorus of jeers and expletives from a sea of smug green of white supporters as he made his way onto the coach, no doubt in a hurry to head north up the M50 after watching his team lose to Rory Gaffney's first half strike.

After witnessing their title aspirations come to an abrupt end following last Monday night's dour stalemate with Sligo Rovers in the Showgrounds, Sunday's trip to Tallaght was always going to be a difficult one for City players who formed the traditional guard of honour in the tunnel prior to kick-off for the three-in-a-row champions.

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Just like the previous four head-to-heads between the teams this season, Sunday's fixture was a tightly contested affair with that solitary 39th minute goal proving decisive but the win ultimately opened up a 10 point gap between the league's top two, suggesting Derry have a lot more work to do to rein in the Hoops.

Derry City players warm-up in Tallaght Stadium ahead of Sunday night's defeat to Shamrock Rovers.Derry City players warm-up in Tallaght Stadium ahead of Sunday night's defeat to Shamrock Rovers.
Derry City players warm-up in Tallaght Stadium ahead of Sunday night's defeat to Shamrock Rovers.

Having finished a massive 24 points behind Rovers last season, Derry have significantly closed that gap but that 10 point margin with one game remaining isn't a fair reflection of how close the Candy Stripes ran their south Dublin opponents this year, according to Higgins.

"I don't think so because up until Monday night before we kicked a ball it was still on," he said. "I don't think it is a fair reflection but we've had two draws and a defeat in our last three which has enhanced the gap. We've been on a long unbeaten run so we can't be too critical. We would've liked to have continued that run tonight but it wasn't to be."

Higgins believes Rovers were worried about Derry's incredible unbeaten league run of 16 games which began late May which resurrected their league title challenge and made the Dubliners 'sweat'.

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He hopes the hurt his players experienced during those pre-match niceties on Sunday and watching Rovers' title party in front of the 7,726 record attendance will act as a catalyst for City's pursuit of that elusive Premier Division trophy.

Derry City players perform the traditional guard of honour for champions Shamrock Rovers in the tunnel at Tallaght Stadium prior to kick-off on Sunday night. Photograph by Kevin Moore.Derry City players perform the traditional guard of honour for champions Shamrock Rovers in the tunnel at Tallaght Stadium prior to kick-off on Sunday night. Photograph by Kevin Moore.
Derry City players perform the traditional guard of honour for champions Shamrock Rovers in the tunnel at Tallaght Stadium prior to kick-off on Sunday night. Photograph by Kevin Moore.

Higgins claims he's not content on making clubs 'sweat' but intent on going that one step further and turning Derry into a 'really powerful' force in Irish football.

"It's difficult but we were completely written off early summer, and we were gone but we answered a few people and brought it down to two or three games to go," said Higgins afterwards. "So we've made significant progress but we've got to keep making more."

"We brought it (gap between Rovers) a lot closer," he added. "Obviously we've taken two points from our last nine which has made that gap bigger. Listen, we're improving, we have a better squad now and we're happy with the direction we're going in."

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He has no doubt his team's incredible run had Bradley's troops under pressure.

"You only have to look at some of their European games where they rested key personnel because of the pressure we were putting on them and I know because I've spoken to people connected to the club that we made them sweat for it. We don't want to make people sweat for it, we want to go and win leagues ourselves. This has to give us real motivation and hunger to try and win the league title next year and the year after and try to make this club really powerful in Irish football."

Derry have shown they are more than a match for Rovers, winning twice (2-1 and 3-1) at Brandywell, drawing once (0-0) and losing twice to a single goal on two occasions in Tallaght this year.

They needed just a point to guarantee second spot but it was more about playing for pride and attempting to spoil the party for the champions on Sunday. Michael Duffy and Jamie McGonigle had early chances and Will Patching and Brandon Kavanagh had two excellent opportunities from well placed free-kicks. However, if it wasn't for some brave last ditch challenges from Mark Connolly, Ronan Boyce and Cameron McJannet in the second half, Rovers could've sealed a more comfortable win.

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Higgins felt the performance lacked an edge and knows his team must rediscover their form and scoring touch going into the final match of the league campaign against Dundalk next Sunday.

"I don't think there was much of an edge on it. There was nothing really riding on it. They had the league won. So there was a lack of edge particularly in the first half. It was a poor goal to concede. Second half we were a bit better in some periods but it's our first domestic defeat in 21 games now. The players have been excellent. I just would've liked a small bit more from us tonight. "We would obviously have liked to have put ourselves in a better position coming down here with something to fight for but it wasn't to be."

With the FAI Cup Final on the horizon, Higgins will have to strike a balance in terms of his team selection, careful not to risk any of his key personnel.

"It's also important that we don't take any risks either but it's our last home game of the season in front of our own supporters we want to put in a good display and get ourselves ready for the final."