McGonigle took his season’s tally to seven goals with two sublime volleys against Sligo Rovers at a packed Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium and he could’ve been walking away with the match ball but saw two further strikes cleared off the line in either half.
Considering the ex-Crusaders and Coleraine striker signed midway through the season, Higgins believes ‘the sky’s the limit’ for the 25 year-old who joined Ronan Boyce at the top of the club’s scoring charts after his double against the Bit O’Red.
“I think the first finish, don’t underestimate that on his left foot,” beamed Higgins after the 2-0 victory which ensured the Candy Stripes remain in pursuit of a fourth place finish. “Really, really good finish and he’s got seven goals in less than half a season here, which is a really good return for someone who hasn’t had a preseason. The sky’s the limit for him and, in my opinion, he’s one of the best finishers on the island of Ireland. I think if we can get a good preseason into him then we’ll have a hell of a player on our hands.
“For the second goal, he’s standing and it was a side foot volley,” he continued. “He’s one of the very few players in this country who is capable of that. The first finish, as I said, can’t be underestimated either. He’s a right footed player and to smash that back across the face of goal with his left foot was outstanding.”
Higgins wasn’t as pleased with McGonigle’s chipped effort over the advancing Richard Brush at the end of the first half as Sligo defender Lewis Banks got back to clear it off the line.
"He could’ve had another one with that dink just before half-time,” smiled Higgins. “I was going to strangle him but decided not to,” he joked. “But anyway, that’s what he does, he gets chances and scores goals and he’s got seven goals in less than half a season all in the league so that’s a great return.”
McGonigle, who rescued a point against Finn Harps with a stoppage time penalty the previous weekend in Ballybofey, explained he would’ve done the same thing given a second chance but he was delighted to show a capacity attendance at Brandywell, a glimpse of what he’s capable of in front of goal.
“If it happened again I would do it again,” he said about his first chance which was cleared off the line.
“The keeper got a nick on it to slow it down. The keeper was straight out so I had to lift it. I was happy enough with the finishes, the first one especially on my weaker side, left foot into the far side netting. And then the one on the right just sat up nicely and I smashed it. I knew once I hit it it was going in so it was one of those where I was celebrating before it even hit the net.
“As a striker you just have to keep getting in there. If you do miss chances you can’t let it get you down, you just have to keep getting in there, I missed one against Harps last week and still stepped up to take the penalty and scored that. It’s about keep getting in there and keep hitting shots.”
Clinching the club’s top scorer accolade was never really in his sights when arriving midway through the campaign but it’s a target he’s already set himself for next year.
“Whenever I came in here, because half of the season was gone and people already had a few goals, you don’t really think about being top goalscorer. But from the start of next year that will be my goal, to make sure I’m the top scorer at the club.
“I just kept chipping away and now I’m joint top with ‘Stout’ (Boyce), so hopefully I can go one better than him next week.”
McGonigle was also delighted to hear his manager’s glowing comments about his undoubted talent and he believes he’s beginning to reap the rewards from all the extra hours put in on the training pitch to hone his striking skills.
“That’s definitely a big compliment but to be fair Ruaidhri would say that to me during training and before games about how confident he is in my finishing. I do a lot of work on my finishing during training and staying behind. He’s still in my ear, definitely. If I miss a chance I know I’m going to hear about it but I’m just glad I scored two good goals tonight and got us the three points.”
When asked whether there was a tinge of regret or a sense of a missed opportunity given a slight dip in performances in recent weeks which saw the potential to clinch automatic qualification for Europe fade away, McGonigle was focussed only on finishing the season on a high next weekend in Dundalk.
“We hit a bit of a dip in form but it wasn’t for a want of trying. In football sometimes you just hit patches like that. Thankfully we got three points tonight and can kick on to get three points next week and see where it takes us.”
An estimated 3,750 were in attendance at Brandywell for the final home match of the season and McGonigle hopes that’s a taste of what’s to come next year.
“Playing at the Brandywell we’ve had good home form and that’s what it was all about tonight trying to get a win and send everybody home happy and excited about hopefully next week and what’s to come next year.”