Ruaidhri Higgins is not shying away from the raised expectations of Derry City for 2022, with many anticipating big things from the Candystripes after some big-name signings.
The arrival of players like Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy, Will Patching, Cameron Dummigan, Matty Smith and Shane McEleney have strengthened City considerably ahead of the new campaign, which begins this evening against Dundalk at Oriel Park.
Highly-rated youngsters Brandon Kavanagh and Brian Maher have also come on board, making it eight new faces in all.
But Higgins insists he would not have signed these players if he wasn’t prepared to accept that increase in expectation, with the former City midfielder wanting to build a strong foundation at the club over the next few years.
“If I wasn’t okay with it, I wouldn’t have signed the players,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of the players before and I know them; there’s no egos. They are high-quality players, don’t get me wrong, but if I wasn’t comfortable with it I wouldn’t have done it.
“We got into Europe and a lot of the players are local and why shouldn’t they be here, they should be here.
“They’re playing in the League of Ireland so they should be in this club and I truly believe that, and I think Philip (O’Doherty) and the board truly believe that.
“We’ve gone about it the right way, we’ve brought them in and enhanced the group, and with that expectation rises and that’s part of it.
“But I think a club this size, with this support, I think we should be aiming to be involved in European football every year.”
Key to any success this year will be being able to compete against the big teams, and Derry will find out quickly if they can do just that, meeting Dundalk this evening before hosting Shamrock Rovers at the Brandywell in their first home game of the new campaign.
The Candystripes won at Dundalk on the final day of last season and are looking for their third successive victory over the Lilywhites, but Higgins knows that his team face a huge challenge against his former club.
“It’s as tough as they come,” Higgins agreed.
“People say the bookies are never far wrong and if we’re going by the bookies then they’re considerably strong favourites.
“We have to go there and try and put in a performance and do as we always do and try and pick up three points.
“You have to be ambitious, you have to go to these places and try and win. That’s the mentality that we’ve tried to create.
“We have gone to difficult venues and won; we went to Sligo and won, we went to Bohemians and won, we went to Finn Park and won.
“We don’t fear anyone and we don’t have an inferiority complex for anyone.”
Dundalk may have fallen short in all competitions last season, but Higgins fully expects them to hit back in 2022, and pointed to the sheer number of former champions in their squad as proof that they will challenge again.
“We’re going to a really difficult venue against a good side who actually, when you look at it and go through their squad — Peter Cherrie, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, John Mountney, Robbie Benson, Pat Hoban, Daniel Kelly — these boys have all won leagues, at least one, and some have won four or five,” stated Higgins.
“A very good percentage of their squad have won league titles before so Dundalk for me, without a shadow of a doubt, will be up there at the end of the season with that sort of level of experience.”
1. Ruaidhri’s ready
The former Derry City midfielder was appointed to his first senior managerial role in April 2021 and has not looked back since. He has been in charge for 32 games at the Brandywell and has won 15, drawn 10 and lost just seven times. He secured European football in his first season in charge and is hoping for even more in 2022 having signed some highly-talented players to strengthen his squad.
2. Captain marvel
Eoin Toal is now the longest serving player at the club having arrived in 2017 under Kenny Shiels. The U21 Northern Ireland international has grown in stature at the club in recent seasons and was handed the captain’s armband by Declan Devine a year ago.
3. New arrivals
Patrick McEleney (Dundalk), Michael Duffy (Dundalk), Will Patching (Dundalk), Cameron Dummigan (Dundalk), Shane McEleney (Finn Harps), Brian Maher (Bray Wanderers), Brandon Kavanagh (Shamrock Rovers), Matty Smith (St Patrick’s Athletic) are all on board.
4. Player to watch
For all the big-name signings that have arrived at the Brandywell, the name on everyone’s lips this year is Jamie McGonigle.
Higgins is hoping to close the 24-point gap which separated his team from Shamrock Rovers last season. Hopes of a title challenge could be premature, but there is no doubt that the Candystripes are in a good position to make an impact in 2022, if their star players can stay fit.