Little moments can play a big part in writing history.
Back in October 2014, Dundalk welcomed Cork City to Oriel Park for a final day showdown which they needed to win if they were to clinch their first league title in 19 years.
Stephen Kenny’s side were dealt a major blow, however, when after just nine minutes Chris Shields limped off.
Sprung from the bench into the action was Ruaidhrí Higgins, who by his own admission had been something of a bit-part player that season.
There’s little doubt the change would not have happened – at least not as soon – but for Shields’ injury. As it turned out however, it proved a stroke of fortune with Higgins going on to play a big role in the goals from Stephen O’Donnell and Brian Gartland which decided the tie.
In doing so he ensured he completed the full set of domestic honours in Irish football but more significantly it was the start of a period of dominance for Dundalk that continued after his departure to Coleraine the following season and when he returned as part of the backroom team a few years later in 2017.
Higgins still looks back on that night at a packed Oriel Park as one of the best of his career.
“The game had started at 100 miles per hour and it was real helter skelter because there was so much at stake,” he said.
“I felt that my experience on the night told and the type of player I was worked for us in that environment. I didn’t have Chris Shields or Richie Towell’s legs to get around the park but what I did have was a calm head and a decent range of passing and I felt that helped settle the game for us.
“It’s not easy coming on that early in a match. Chris Shields had an unbelievable season that year. That was the year he really took off and everyone started talking about him whereas I was in and out of the team. I remember just sitting in the dug out having a chat and watching the game and then all of a sudden you’re thrown into a game that you probably never expected to play more than 20 minutes or half an hour in at a push.
“To get on the pitch after about 10 minutes and put in a half decent performance, I was delighted with that but I think we really deserved the league. We were the best team in the country that year and it’s amazing what has happened since that.
“I feel that was a catalyst for the club to really kick on. I also feel the League Cup win that year was huge in the sense that a lot of the players hadn’t won anything before. That gave them the drive to kick on because they now knew what it took to win. It was a real springboard for future successes.
“The celebrations that night and that weekend were incredible. They’re something I’ll never, ever forget and I’m just thankful to have been a part of it.”
It would be the first of three title triumphs he would be involved with during his time with Dundalk but Higgins doesn’t see that journey of success ending any time soon.
“It is a great achievement. I’m not really one to look back too much but I will always look back at my time at Dundalk with real fondness.
“2014 was a special, special year and the best dressing room that I was probably ever involved in. There was just a real connection with the supporters as well and then to go and win the league the way we done it on the last day against our biggest rivals was incredible.
“It was the weekend of my 30th birthday and my folks and whole family were at the game. It was just an amazing night and as a player it was definitely in the top three or four nights that I’ve ever had in my career.
“I obviously moved on after that before coming back in 2017 but I genuinely never expected the club to have the success and the dominance that we have had over the last few years.
“If you look at what Stephen did at Dundalk, he was taking players that others didn’t want. I know people will talk these days about the club’s budget but that budget was earned on the pitch. In my opinion it’s the best club job I’ve seen in Irish football and what he achieved with Vinny as his assistant is a credit to them.”
While his first year back in 2017 saw the club finish runners-up to Cork City in both the league and FAI Cup, he feels it ruled the fire for the successes of 2018 and 2019.
“Out of a negative you can take a great positive.
“That year really re-lit the fire when we didn’t win the league that year. It hurt everybody because the league was probably over at the halfway point even though Cork probably didn’t win it until there was about three matches to go. It re-lit the fire for everybody and I had no doubt coming back then in 2018 that we were going to kick on and be successful.
“The big regret from me from 2017 was the Rosenborg game in Europe. I probably felt on chances over the two games that we probably deserved to go through against what was a top class European club so it was a real bitter pill to swallow that we didn’t go through that night over there.
“That year wasn’t a disaster from the point of view of what followed because the hunger that everyone got from not achieving what we wanted to drove us on for the following year.
“2018 was massive because there was a lot of things flying around saying the bubble had burst and that sort of thing so to come back and win it so comprehensively was brilliant and we were a penalty shoot out then of winning everything last year.”
Higgins puts the success down to a core group of players that he is proud to call friends.
“You have Brian Gartland, Sean Gannon, Dane Massey, Andy Boyle, Chris Shields, John Mountney and Pat Hoban who were there in 2014 and I don’t think that bond we had will ever be broken because that was many people’s first league title and I’m sure if you asked the lads what was the best nights of their career, that would be right up there with anything that they have done.
“It’s very difficult to leave such a good group behind but the players to a man last year were really, really unbelievable and a joy to work with. They make your job easy.
“The respect they show anyone who comes into the club is top class. I genuinely can’t speak highly enough of them and I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the success will be continued with that group of players and staff at the club.
“I’d like to thank the club for my time there. From the supporters to everyone involved, it has been an amazing time in my life and I wish them all the best in the future,” said Higgins.