Ruaidhri Higgins hails Derry City’s ‘historic’ European win after ‘special night’ in Finland
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It was a 'special night' in Kuopio as the resilient Candy Stripes twice came from behind to clinch a memorable 3-3 draw at the Väre Areena against a team who currently top the Veikkausliiga table and are positioned 222 places above them in Uefa's coefficients rankings.
The City boss, who was part of that unforgettable 2006 Uefa Cup journey to the third round which featured historic wins over Swedish giants Gothenburg and Scottish 'fairytale' club Gretna, ranked this thrilling 5-4 two legged victory in the Uefa Conference League as his biggest achievement in football.
"It's an amazing achievement," beamed Higgins. "Finnish football is strong. They have big clubs. HJK Helsinki, KuPS, really big football clubs who have real pedigree in European football - a lot more than what we have.
"And to come here and knock them out gives us great pride," he smiled.
Cian Kavanagh, the hero in the first leg, scored a 13th minute header to give Derry a dream start to the second leg tie.
Finnish international Jasse Tuominen equalised 10 minutes later and a deflected Saku Savolainen effort on the stroke of half-time turned the game on its head.
However, City hit back and the influential Sadou Diallo and Michael Duffy netted either side of a lovely team move finished by Savolainen for his second.
Duffy's powerful 69th minute header proved the difference as Derry clinched a remarkable victory which banked another E300,000 for the Brandywell outfit, taking the European pot to a staggering E850,000 so far!
"It's amazing," he beamed. "It makes all the tough times really worthwhile and there's been a few this season, there's no doubt about that.
"It's brilliant for our supporters, for our chairman who has put big investment into the football club. That's what it's all about and it's a special night."
Asked where it ranks in terms of his achievements as both manager and player, the 2022 FAI Cup winning City boss answered: "It's right up there because when you're a manager, you're the figurehead, you're the leader of the club.
"Managing Derry City Football Club, for me, is one of the biggest jobs in the country without a shadow of a doubt. It's a pressured job but it's a privilege as well. You can make so many people happy and it's a special football club. To lead that, it probably tops anything I've done as a player."
After the 2-1 first leg win at Brandywell, KuPS manager Jani Honkavaara claimed his team struggled with Derry's 'direct style' - a comment which clearly irked Higgins who felt his team were the better side over the two legs.
"I know their manager spoke about us last week about being direct which I felt was a small bit insulting and you saw the last 15 minutes there was only one team being direct and that was KuPS.
“I spoke to the players in the build up to the game about resilience and how much resilience I feel we have in the group and I think over the two games against KuPS we've shown that in spades."