Article by Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport.
Derry City manager Ruaidhrí Higgins and his Captain Patrick McEleney have called on the club’s supporters to be the twelfth man on Sunday and help push the Candystripes over the line against league champions Shamrock Rovers and into the last four of the FAI Cup. Sunday’s game, which will be televised live on RTE2 (4.30 pm coverage, 5.00 pm KO), could have broader implications in terms of the title race with Derry City now just one point behind a Shamrock Rovers side who have a jam-packed schedule to contend with thanks to their European exploits over the summer.
However, speaking at a press conference ahead of Sunday’s sold out FAI Cup quarter-final at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium, Derry boss Higgins attempted to pour cold water on the idea that a win at the weekend could further enhance his teams title hopes.
“It’s a completely different competition, if we win on Sunday we don’t get three points but it puts us into the semi-finals of the cup, they’re two totally different competitions so we’re treating them that way”, insisted Higgins.
Derry City go into Sunday’s game seeking a fifth straight win in all competitions, while the Foylesiders have kept a clean sheet in all four of their most recent wins. On top of that, Derry have also won their last four home games across all competitions and it is that feat that pleases Ruaidhrí Higgins most.
“Our home form has improved, we’ve won our last four and four clean sheets as well and it’s important I think, we need to make the Brandywell a horrible place to come to, and we probably haven’t been good enough at home in a lot of performances, there’s a few draws at home that we completely deserved to win but results wise it (our home form) probably hasn’t been what we would’ve liked but it’s got better as the seasons progressed and we’re delighted with our form at the minute”, remarked the Derry City manager.
Jamie McGonigle’s 95th minute winner at home to Shamrock Rovers all the way back in Febuary, on matchday two in the new League of Ireland Premier Division season, was seen by many at the time as a sign and signal of intent that Derry City had arrived as a real force, following a winter of big transfers and investment. Sunday now offers Derry the opportunity to replicate that occasion and land a real hammer blow to a Shamrock Rovers team most pundits expect Derry to be battling for top dog status in Ireland over the coming seasons.
With the RTE cameras in town there is an added sense of occasion about this cup tie and Derry City skipper, Patrick McEleney, who of course scored a winner in an FAI Cup final for Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium, feels Sunday’s game will excite the many neutrals tuning in.
“It’s a huge game, I think every game we’ve played (against Shamrock Rovers) has been good, we both try and play and obviously we both have really good players so it will be a good one for the neutral and we’ll be ready but we have to do our homework, they are a top side”, commented McEleney.
While Derry City have been in good form of late, the Candystripes have had to dig in deep over the past week to keep the pressure on Shamrock Rovers in the title race with the men from the Bogside claiming back to back 1-0 wins against Bohemians and Sligo Rovers in the space of just four days. Both of those fixtures came at home and McEleney admitted the fans played a big part in helping the team to dip into their reserves and find the extra energy needed to secure those crucial league points.
“It’s going to be a big game and we’rev really looking forward to it, I think our fans, especially in the previous weeks, have been amazing for us, going back to the last two one-nil wins for us there were times where we had to defend and they (the fans) were there for us and that doesn’t go noticed by the players, it’s been brilliant”, declared an excited Derry City captain, who will be hoping to earn a shot and lifting a third FAI Cup having won the competition in 2018 & 2020 at Dundalk.
As for Shamrock Rovers, the Hoops endured a difficult night at the office in Europe on Thursday as Gent pushed a number of defensive errors made by the League of Ireland Champions to record a 3-0 home win. That experience is likely to have bruised Stephen Bradley’s side given they had made such a positive start to their Europa Conferance League group by recording a scoreless draw at home to Djurgårdens the week previous. However, according to Derry City manager Ruaidhrí Higgins, the Champions are more than well resourced to cope with juggling domestic duties with grueling European adventures.
“If any squad in the country has the capacity to deal with that scenario it’s them (Shamrock Rovers), they played in Europe last Thursday and were 4-0 up at half-time against Finn Harps on the Sunday, so they’ve got that experience and as as I said, they’ve got the squad to deal with it”, insisted Higgins, who worked under Stephen Kenny in the Irish international set up prior to taking the Derrry City job last year.
In terms of the head-to-head standings going into Sunday’s game, it’s honours even with a win apiece and a scoreless draw the outcome from the three matches between Derry City and Shamrock Rovers this term. While this is undoubtedly the most important coming together of the season so far, Ruaidhrí Higgins feels this cup tie will follow a similar pattern to the league meetings between the teams this year.
“We’re in good form, they’ve been three tight matches we’ve had already this season (against Shamrock Rovers) and I can’t see it being much different (on Sunday), so we’ll give it a good crack and see how we go”, concluded Higgins, who also won the FAI Cup twice as a player in 2006 & 2012 with Derry City.
For in-depth previews, discussion and predictions on all four FAI Cup Quarter-Finals taking place this weekend, tune into S6EP30 of Between the Stripes LOI podcast.