Ruaidhrí Higgins ‘proud’ to lead Derry City into Europe once again

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SOME OF the 'most special nights' of Ruaidhri Higgins' career came while representing Derry City in Europe and the Brandywell boss is desperate to create more unforgettable memories with the club this season.

Ahead of this evening's Uefa Conference League clash against Bruno's Magpies in Gibraltar, Higgins recalled how he felt as he left the pitch in Finland last season following a 3-3 draw against KuPS which took the Foylesiders through to a third round in Europe for the first time since his playing days in 2006.

The previous week's 2-1 victory at Brandywell was 'one of the best nights I've had in football'," said Higgins and it was certainly one of the most memorable atmospheres since those heady days of that famous European run under Stephen Kenny almost 20 years ago where they dispatched of Gothenburg and Gretna before holding the mighty PSG.

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Michael Duffy's 69th minute header at the Väre Areena in Kupio. ensured a 5-4 aggregate victory which banked a further €300,000 for the club's coffers.

That European run was to end against Tobol of Kazakhstan in the next round after two heroic displays but those experiences of last season will live long in the memory for Higgins who says he's 'proud' to be leading Derry City back into Europe for a third time as manager.

"It would mean the world [to progress] and we want to make sure that this place is packed out next Thursday night," said Higgins. "We've seen even in my time here over the last few years, the European nights here have been special, particularly the KuPS one last year which was probably one of the best nights I've ever had in football.

"The noise, the crowd got us over the line that night, I've absolutely no doubt about it. They were a really good team. One of the most special nights in my career and it'll live long in the memory and we want to create more of those nights.

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"That's why you're in the game. You're in the game for these experiences and I think they make you better. I think they improve you as an individual and collectively."Higgins is just one European win away from equalling his old boss Kenny's record with Derry and as a young manager in the game, he's already accrued plenty of airmiles.

Derry City Ruaidhrí Higgins. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2305GS – 41Derry City Ruaidhrí Higgins. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2305GS – 41
Derry City Ruaidhrí Higgins. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2305GS – 41

"As a player and as a coach and as a manager I've been involved in a hell of a lot of European fixtures. My brief time with Ireland as well, I've experienced a lot there as well.

"We've had amazing experiences, I don't take it for granted. Football is an ever evolving industry. The day you think you know it all, the day you think you're great, your time's up, your time's over.

"There's always people better than you out there and you have to keep learning, keep evolving. These types of events and these types of fixtures help you evolve as a coach, as a player, as a manager, as everything.

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"So you can't beat these experiences but they're only enjoyable experiences if you win and we need to go and try and win the game."

Winning a first league title since 1997 must be the priority for Derry this season but Higgins wants to be greedy with these European experiences providing special memories for fans and players alike.

"Football is a short career, particularly for players, hopefully not for me," he smiled. "It's really, really important that when you finish as a player, as a coach, as a manager, that you have really enjoyable experiences to look back on. So far we've had plenty but you always want to create more and you want to be greedy.

"I remember that feeling on the pitch over in Finland after we went through last year. We had about 50 supporters there, some club officials, players. All in all there might have been about 80 people connected to this club on the ground against a few thousand Finnish fans. That feeling walking off the pitch after going through was a special feeling.

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"As I said, hopefully we can replicate those sorts of nights."

Danish giants Copenhagen await the winners of this two legged first qualifying round tie but Higgins wasn't entertaining talk of the second round, knowing his team face a tricky game against the Gibraltarians in the soaring heat this afternoon [Kick-off 5pm Irish time].

"Copenhagen is so far down my list of priorities at this moment in time that it's frightening. We understand we have a really difficult task at hand, they'll be a well coached team, some talented players and if we think like that then we won't progress to the next stage.

"It's as simple as that" he warned. "Teams from smaller nations, we've seen it over the last number of years that the smaller nations are really improving and we've done nothing to turn our nose up at anybody.

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"Listen, that's not up for me to say who's favourites and who's not and a lot of it is guesswork in my view and what we've seen of them, they're a talented side and they can hurt you. If we're not at it and if we're not right then we'll get done over but it's 180 minutes or 190 minutes probably, they try and get themselves through and that's what we'll try and do."

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