Ciaron Harkin was quickly becoming an integral part of Derry City’s midfield, until a horror ACL injury two games into the season brought his rise to a shuddering halt.
The academy graduate featured in all but five of Derry's 87 league games after re-signing from Coleraine in January 2019, but has spent the past seven month on the sidelines, watching his teammates push Shamrock Rovers for the league title, who they sit five points behind.
It was hoped the midfielder would be back fit in time to play some minutes in the six remaining league games, but unfortunately suffered another devastating setback last Tuesday, as the club confirmed Harkin had done further damage to his ACL in training.
The Candystripes also defeated Rovers to reach their first FAI Cup semi-final since 2016 this month, and while the months of rehab have been gruelling for the midfielder, he says seeing his side do well makes it a little easier.
“Playing or not, I still want to see the team do well,” said Harkin, speaking before this week’s setback, at the launch of FIFA 23.
“Being from the city and growing up supporting Derry, this year I've been more like a fan than a player. Just because I’m not playing doesnt mean I don't want them to win. It’s hard, but I'm enjoying seeing the team do well. It would be great to see them lift silverware this year. It's been tough, but it makes it easier that we’re doing well.”
Harkin lauded the impact fellow Derryman Ruaidhrí Higgins has made at the Ryan McBride Brandywell, since taking charge in April of last year. In his first full season in charge, the manager has led Derry to the cup semi-final, and looks likely to guide the Candystripes to their first second-placed finish since 2016, as they face St Patrick's Athletic tonight (7.45).
“There is something special at Derry,” Harkin added.
“Not only the last few months, but the last 18 months since Ruaidhrí has come in. I've been here for four years, and the difference in the way the club is going in now is night and day.
“Ruaidhrí lives and breathes it. He loves the club and doesn't keep it a secret how much it means to him. He’s from the city and tells us everyday. His passion drives the players on and it’s showing this year.
"If we can win our games we’ll hope other teams can give us a hand on Rovers. Hopefully it keeps going, let's see where it takes us.”