Ruaidhri Higgins hails impact of departing Derry City striker James Akintunde

RUAIDHRI Higgins has hailed departing Derry City striker James Akintunde for his impact at Brandywell, describing the Englishman as 'selfless' and 'the heart' of the dressing room.
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The City supremo acknowledged Akintunde's exit was viewed as an 'unpopular' decision among supporters, players and staff at the Brandywell club as he confirmed the 26 year-old Londoner's departure.

However, as his plans for next season quickly gather pace, Higgins paid a heartwarming tribute to 'a special character' who made a valued contribution during his two-and-a-half year stint on Foyleside.

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And Higgins was delighted the former Cambridge United front man fittingly finished his City career on a high with an FAI Cup winners' medal.

James Akintunde celebrates his winning goal against Finn Harps. Photo by Kevin Moore.James Akintunde celebrates his winning goal against Finn Harps. Photo by Kevin Moore.
James Akintunde celebrates his winning goal against Finn Harps. Photo by Kevin Moore.

"Sometimes you have to make decisions," explained the Derry manager. "Sometimes they're popular and sometimes they're unpopular but that's just the way football is, that's the industry we're in.

"I've had conversations with James and they've been very open and transparent and he's been a joy to deal with both on and off the pitch.

"James has been brilliant around the club and he's a special personality. He was loved in the dressing room by players and staff and obviously supporters both on and off the pitch. He was selfless and always put the team first.

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"He'll be moving on but I'm very, very fond of him. He came in every day with a smile on his face, and contributed a lot. He probably didn't start as many games as he would've liked but he had a big impact for us. He's one of those people that everyone seems to gravitate towards and love."

Akintunde made 87 appearances, scoring 16 goals since arriving at the club in July 2020 but he was restricted to just 17 starts last term.

Despite making most of his appearances from the substitute's bench (21) during 2022, he still managed to register his best goal return with eight strikes including two in the successful FAI Cup run.

With the arrival of Ireland U21 international Colm Whelan from UCD, Akintunde was deemed surplus to requirements but Higgins remains 'extremely fond' of the player and wished him well at his next club.

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"Whenever I would speak to him about being out of the team he would accept it. He was a breath of fresh air and someone we were all extremely fond of but football is one of those games where things happen for whatever reason.

"He's done really well here and it was a great way to finish off his time here by winning a trophy in front of a massive crowd. It's great that all his family were here for that game."

Akintunde described that Aviva Stadium showpiece as the best moment of his career and he certainly played his part in Derry's best league finish since 2006, scoring late, late winners against both Bohemians and Finn Harps this year.

"He's scored big goals here which he will be fondly remembered for. He's been brilliant and I wish him all the best in the future because he's a special character," concluded the City boss.