Shamrock Rovers hold no psychological edge over title rivals Derry City: says Ruaidhri Higgins

RUAIDHRI Higgins dismissed suggestions Shamrock Rovers hold a psychological edge over Derry City in the title race after the champions knocked the Candy Stripes off top spot going into Friday night's televised clash in Tallaght.

By Simon Collins
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 6:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th May 2022, 6:53 pm

Stephen Bradley’s troops have won back-to-back titles and are the form team in the league on an 11 match unbeaten run which saw them leapfrog Derry into first on Monday night.

The Candy Stripes held pole position for SEVEN weeks before being clawed back by Rovers who were buoyed by Bradley’s decision to reject the advances of Lincoln City.

The Dubliners certainly have the momentum going into this evening’s mouthwatering encounter but Higgins has full confidence in his team who have exceeded expectations this season.

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Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins.

One defeat in 20 matches is no mean feat in the top flight - a run which saw Derry take seven points from St Pat’s and three from Rovers this season - and so the City boss insists his team won’t be travelling to south Dublin just to make up the numbers.

“Our players should embrace it,” said Higgins. “It’s a brilliant venue and against a brilliant club so we have to go there and enjoy ourselves and put on a show and show people what we’re capable of.

“It has the makings of a really good game. It’s live on TV as well so hopefully the players embrace the challenge and enjoy it. Why not go there and put in a memorable performance?”

Having once held a six points advantage over Rovers, Derry now trail by one but that turnaround is of little significance for Higgins with more than half the season yet to be played.

However, the Limavady man believes tonight’s match will give his team a better indication as to where they’re at in terms of building a sustained challenge for league titles.

“It will give us a good indication of where we really are. Yes, one defeat in 20 games is not easy in this league,” he agreed.

“That’s more than half a season, so we’re not a bad team ourselves and they will have concerns about us as well I’m sure. In terms of the table, if we were looking at it with six or seven games to go and we were in this position then I think it’s a different story. We’re 15 games into a 36 game season so we’re coming up to halfway in the next month or so.

“Psychologically I don’t think it really means anything at the minute. If we go there and put in a good performance and get a good result then I think it will be of huge benefit to our players but it’s far too early. There’s 21 games left so it’s far, far too early to be talking about titles.”

Higgins has been in the Derry hotseat for just over one year now in contrast to Bradley who has been steadily building his star-studded Rovers team since 2016.

The Derry supremo believes that strength in depth is the biggest difference between the two sides at present but points out it’s ‘just the beginning’ of his ambitious project at Brandywell.

“They’ve won back to back leagues; they have the biggest and deepest squad in the league and they have international players. They were able to make four changes at half-time the other night. They made eight changes from Friday and then four at half-time which shows how strong their squad is.

"Stephen Bradley took over in 2016 and they’ve been building since then. He’s had a long time to build there and has done an exceptional job. The biggest difference between us and them at the minute is squad depth but this is just the beginning for us.

“In saying that, we’re not going down there to make up the numbers, we’re going down there to win as we always do.

“It would be easy to go there, camp in and the inevitable happens in that case so we’re not going to do that. We’re going to be positive and try to stamp our authority on the game against an exceptional team.”

Chairman Philip O’Doherty hasn’t held back in bankrolling Higgins’ bid to close the gap on Rovers with some stellar signings during the close season but the Derry boss has been unfortunate in terms of significant injuries to players like Michael Duffy and most recently Patrick McEleney.

“Without a doubt I’ve been backed but the crowd has gone through the roof as well and we’ve qualified for Europe so it’s been worth it. Given the fact we haven’t had Duffy or (Ciaron) Harkin available I think we’ve done exceptionally well to this point. What I would say is we’ve got outstanding players. We have Daithi McCallion, Caoimhin Porter, Liam Mullan so the majority of our bench is made up from players coming through our Academy.

“Philip and the Board have been outstanding but we haven’t got the deepest squad with 25 per cent of our squad made up of players still playing academy football. We’ve got exceptional players mixed with a lot of really young players as well.”

Friday's match won’t decide the title and Higgins was quick to point out it would be foolish to believe it’s a two horse race at this early juncture.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a two horse race at all. Dundalk have gathered a bit of momentum and St Pats are a really good side. We’re in a good position and I’m proud of what we’ve done so far, really proud.”

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Derry City ready for teams to 'park the bus' at Brandywell says Ruaidhri Higgins