Ruaidhri Higgins hails Derry City keeper Brian Maher after record breaking Ireland form

RUAIDHRI Higgins believes Derry City’s No.1 Brian Maher should keep ‘living in the moment’ as he enjoys a rich vein of form for both club and country.

By Simon Collins
Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 1:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 1:05 pm

The 21 year-old Raheny native has been in sensational form for Jim Crawford’s Republic of Ireland U21 side, breaking the record for the most clean sheets in a single U21 European qualification campaign with FIVE.

That’s one more than Oldham’s Danny Rogers’ total of four in 2017, and two more than Liverpool’s Caoimhín Kelleher in 2021 and Keiran O’Hara (Fleetwood Town) in 2019. That run ended on Monday night in Ireland’s 3-1 win over Montenegro with the concession of a 76th minute goal in Tallaght.

However, three clean sheets and a string of fantastic saves in recent qualifiers against Sweden (twice) and Bosnia-Herzegovina have greatly enhanced his glowing reputation.

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Higgins, however, wants the former Bray Wanderers stopper to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground and to continue enjoying his football at club level with the Candy Stripes.

With former Northern Ireland U21 keeper Nathan Gartside breathing down his neck at Brandywell for the No. 1 jersey, Higgins is keen to keep him on his toes despite his latest ‘exceptional’ international performances.

“He’s done very well and has been exceptional for the U21s,” said Higgins, “The European qualification campaign has been great for him."

Monday evening's win moved Ireland into second in Group F, two points ahead of Sweden and one behind leaders Italy. The nine group winners, along with the best runner-up, automatically qualify for the finals in Romania and Georgia. The remaining eight runners-up will go into a playoff.

Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins (back row) pictured beside former Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers and behind Ireland senior manager Stephen Kenny at last night's Ireland U21 qualifier win against Montenegro at Tallaght.

Sweden play Italy on Thursday in a game which could decide Ireland's fate and then, in their final game of the group, Ireland travel to play the Italians on June 14th.

If Sweden fail to defeat Italy on Thursday, then Ireland are assured of a playoff spot. Depending on the result between Sweden and Italy, Jim Crawford's team could still qualify automatically.

"You never know what could happen in the final game against Italy," added Higgins who will watch the games unfold with much interest. “We’re delighted to have him. He’s been great for us. His reputation is growing and hopefully he can have a big second half of the season. He knows we have Nathan Gartside as well who is an outstanding young keeper so he needs to keep playing well to stay in the team.”

Maher was fleetingly involved with Stephen Kenny’s senior international squad last March for a training camp before returning to the U21s for their vital win away to Sweden. He remains on the periphery of the hotly contested debate for Ireland’s future number one spot with a glut of top class goalkeepers in the Irish ranks.

Derry City's No.1 Brian Maher has been in a terrific form for both club and country.

Bohemians’ stopper James Talbot is the latest to be elevated to the senior ranks to make up for the loss of the injured Gavin Bazunu for the Nations League clash with Ukraine tomorrow while Kelleher and Bournemouth’s Mark Travers remain well ahead in that race for that coveted spot between the sticks.

Derry boss, Higgins, who was in Tallaght Stadium last night watching Ireland’s qualifier against Montenegro, reckons Maher has a bright future but should only be concerned with the here and now.

“He’s only 21,” added the City boss. “The thing is, all the senior keepers are in their early 20s as well. Caoimhín (Kelleher) is young, Mark Travers is young so there’s a lot of really good competition in that area but Brian is living in the moment, enjoying his football with us and doing really well with the U21s. What will be, will be.

“As long as he keeps doing the business for Derry that’s all I can ask for.”

Maher's involvement with the Ireland U21s forced the postponement of Derry's scheduled league clash with Shelbourne and they don't return to league action until the visit of Drogheda United on June 17th.

However, Higgins confirmed Derry City will travel to play Cliftonville at Solitude on Saturday afternoon for a friendly fixture to get his team back up to speed following the mid-season break.

“The break was welcomed,” said Higgins. “The players have come back refreshed and they’re in good spirits.

“They all needed it and everyone is ready to go again. The Cliftonville game will top us up and get us ready for the Drogheda game.”

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