Ruaidhri Higgins says Derry City's dressing room harmony is key to success
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Derry fell short last season in the title race as the club suffered from its squad depth and injuries to key personnel.
The City boss has proven to be a shrewd operator in the transfer market, backed by a trusting and wealthy chairman which obviously has its advantages.
His success in the close season window may have addressed any squad depth concerns with the recruitment of some exciting young stars which looks much better equipped to sustain a title challenge.
Higgins has a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, however, that luxury leaves something of a conundrum with places in the starting XI at a premium.
How though does he keep intact the 'chemistry' and dressing room content?
It's a new challenge for the manager but when questioned on how he will accommodate all his new arrivals and in particular his creative collective, he simply retorted: 'You leave that to me', with a knowing smile.
And who are we to question after a season which has created such a stir in the League of Ireland and ignited genuine hope of bridging a 26 year gap since Derry last tasted league championship glory?
Disgruntled players gaining splinters from sitting on the substitutes’ bench poses a new potential problem for Higgins but he knows the key to keeping all of his attackers smiling will be success.
Of course, excluded players feel less inclined to rock the boat if the side is winning!
And the City supremo has made it clear it's very much a squad effort as he bids to better last year's achievements.
"I think what's clear is that there is a real good spirit in this group. There's good chemistry which is really important going into a new season.
"That's what we need (competition for places). That's what we want and that's what drives players. It gives myself and the coaching staff options.
"The first half of the season is very top heavy, particularly the first couple of months.
"So we need to make sure we're ready and that we have different types of players who can affect different games."
He knows he's blessed with options and top players who can adapt to any tactical scenario or formation and his message is clear about squad unity before a ball is kicked.
"If players aren't happy then they can go somewhere else," he said bluntly.
"You see top clubs in England when players show discontent then they move on. It's part of my job and part of the coaching staff's job to keep people happy but if a player becomes unhappy and wants to leave the club then they can leave.
"We take pride in our dressing room. We've built a really good dressing room. You can go and sign good players and that's great but if you don't sign good people then it leaves you in trouble.
"We have good lads here. We fight for each other and enjoy each other's company. Players seem to be really happy at the football club and long may that continue.
"Players we bring in all have to want to achieve and have ambition and I think with every player we've brought through the door we've got that.
“Recruitment is a huge part of being successful and we'll try our best to make sure we keep bringing in good players and improve the squad in every window.”
With Colm Whelan, Ben Doherty, Tadhg Ryan, Adam O'Reilly and Ollie O'Neill all added to the squad, does he believe Derry have bridged a gap to Rovers?
"It's very difficult to say,” began Higgins. “I think there's a group of teams who will feel they can mount a challenge I'm sure. They won't come out openly and say it but we want to go as close as we possibly can and be ambitious.
"We want to improve on last season which will be difficult but that's the aim. Every time you go into a new season to have to improve on the season before. Let's see. We’ll give it a go and see where it takes us.”
Last season’s FAI Cup triumph has breathed new life into the ambitions of the team but has that success come at a price as teams up their game against the newly installed favourites for the league.
“In 2021 we got ourselves into Europe so we earned respect from that. Last year we will have earned more respect.
"We have good players. People know we have good players. Other clubs have good players so it's just a competitive league.
"There's a lot of good teams, players, coaches and managers but we have to be ahead of the game and try to improve on last season. We’ll give it our best shot.”
St Pat’s boss Tim Clancy recently spoke out about how the Saints were out-muscled financially by Derry for the signature of midfielder O’Reilly but Higgins doesn’t believe they’re now the league’s high rollers.
Certainly he reckons clubs have done well to do their business under the radar.
"You don't always get what you want that’s the way it is,” he said of his transfer business.
"What it does show is that other clubs are extremely competitive in the transfer market which goes under the radar.
"A lot of clubs now are getting well backed. A lot of managers are getting well backed and it's extremely competitive.
"I'm delighted with the business we've done and will continue to do. I’m sure we go into the season in a better place than we were in last season."
For those who suggest Derry are the last of the big spenders, Higgins insists he’s made every effort to get value for money.
“To get those players in players have to leave the club so it's not an open chequebook.
"We have to balance the books. More players have left than we've brought in at this moment in time. The remainder of players we brought in were loans.
"So we've managed the budget well and that’s a huge part of it. We take great pride in trying to get value for money and not just slinging it around everywhere.”