Friendship will go out the window for Dundalk midfielder Ruaidhri Higgins when the Lilywhites face Coleraine in the Setanta Cup 1st round 1st leg at Oriel Park on Monday night.
The Higgins household, in his native Limavady, is a 20-minute drive from Coleraine and the cultured midfielder is a regular spectator at The Showgrounds whenever he gets the chance to return home.
The 29-year-old is also friends with Coleraine manager Oran Kearney and is close to a number of the The Bannsiders players, most notably central midfielder Michael Hegarty, who, according to Higgins, has had the date pencilled in his diary for some time.
“I know quite a lot of them at Coleraine and Michael is a very good friend of mine so I’ve had a couple of texts already, warning me to make sure I’ve a good pair of shin pads on”, he laughed.
Coleraine are currently mired in a relegation battle in the Danske Bank Premiership, hovering dangerously close to the bottom three, but Higgins believes it is a false position and one that Dundalk would be foolish to read too much into.
“Coleraine have players who can cause us problems,” he said.
“They’re fourth from bottom but if you look at their last 10 games in all competitions they have lost very few. They’ve struggled at times but they’ve made a few good signings and have a lot of their good players back from injury. I’ve seen them a lot and on their day they are a match for any team in the Irish League.”
One obvious advantage that the northern team should have over Dundalk is fitness. Kearney’s side have already played 28 league games to date whereas the Lilywhites have just five pre-season games under their belts.
“Fitness wise, at the minute, they’re in the middle of their season and they’ll be at their peak while we’re in pre-season”, commented Higgins.
“They’ve obviously got more games under their belts which might give them an advantage physically but results in recent years have usually gone the way of the League of Ireland teams.”
With the ties played over two legs, taking a lead to Coleraine will be important if Dundalk are to advance but Higgins said it would not be the be all and end all if they didn’t.
“We have to remember that it’s a 180 minute tie as opposed to 90 minutes in a normal league game. It would be nice to take an advantage to The Showgrounds but Coleraine beat Shamrock Rovers 1-0 in Tallaght last year. It was a bit of a shock result but Rovers went up there and won 2-0. The aim is to just get through the tie, it doesn’t matter where or how we do it.
Higgins admits he is a big fan of the competition. He was a part of the Derry City team that were beaten on penalty kicks by Crusaders in the 2012 final at the Oval in Belfast and he is hoping to go one better this season.
“I love the Setanta Cup and I’ve always enjoyed playing in it. At Derry we had great games with Linfield that brought massive crowds. I don’t know what the crowd will be like in Oriel Park on Monday but if you can get to the latter stages then it draws big crowds. It’s a great competition and it’d be a fantastic one to win.”