MICHAEL McCrudden has endured a frustrating start to life at Derry City but after a tumultuous couple of months, the talented striker is excited about what lies ahead.
The Top of the Hill man made his first start on Monday night against Waterford since fracturing his metatarsal during an innocuous training ground challenge last March.
His City career was just kicking into gear after consecutive starts against Waterford and Cork City before that ill-timed challenge during a training match stopped him in his tracks.
After an arduous rehabilitation programme he got himself back to full fitness but his return to action was postponed as he married his finance, Ciara at the Galgorm last month.
And following his short honeymoon in Jamaica he was eager to pull on the Candy Striped shirt again and help his hometown club in their quest for Europe as they enter the final stretch of the season.
Declan Devine has eased him back into action with substitute appearances against Sligo Rovers - where he hit the post late on - and against Finn Harps in Ballybofey.
And on Monday night he showed his worth when starting on the left wing in the absence of the injured Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, adding a beautifully executed assist for David Parkhouse’s incredible second goal.
It’s his second spell at the Brandywell club. He made 13 appearances for the Candy Stripes under Stephen Kenny during his last stint and Monday night was just his sixth appearance in 2019. However, McCrudden, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Wednesday, feels he’s refreshed and excited to finally get his Derry career up and running, seven months into his two year contract with the Foylesiders.
“It’s been a long time coming but I’m just glad to get a good 65 minutes in my legs and get back on the pitch so it was great to start a match, especially at the Brandywell and get back to winning ways,” said the ex-Institute forward.
It’s been a hectic few weeks in the McCrudden household and he’s delighted that all the hustle and bustle of the wedding planning is done and dusted as he concentrates fully on his football.
“I’m actually glad to get the wedding and honeymoon over with. Now I have a clear head coming back and I can enjoy my football without anything else going on in my head. So that’s another plus.”
The in-form Junior faces a late fitness test ahead of Friday night’s trip to UCD but McCrudden is hoping he can retain his place in the starting XI.
And he insists Derry travel to the Belfield with the intention of righting a wrong having been held to a shock stalemate by the Students at Brandywell three weeks ago.
“I was on my honeymoon at the time but we had a bagful of chances that night and should’ve put the game to bed.
“So the boys are looking to put that right. That was two points dropped so we can’t let that happen again.”
Monday night’s win against Waterford was crucial in terms of closing the gap on third placed, Bohemians and McCrudden claims the team were desperate to get the defeat to rivals, Finn Harps, out of their system.
“Last Friday night was probably the lowest we’ve been, getting beat by your rivals,” said the Waterside man. “I think all the players were glad we were straight back into a match on Monday. You didn’t want that defeat lingering on and obviously that’s now in the past.
“It was a great three points but we move on again on Friday for another three points.
“We need to win on Friday, there’s only nine games so we have to keep ‘er lit.
“It was brilliant to start. The players and staff have been brilliant to me so we’re all fighting for everything
“At Harps we were a bit sluggish and slow and it was the difference of day and night against Waterford when we were right bang at it and getting in their faces from the start.
“I don’t think teams can handle that pressure and pace. It’s just about doing the same again come Friday. That’s how we need to play.”
With skipper, Barry McNamee back in contention after his short break and with new signing, Grant Gillespie, making his debut on Monday, there’s lots of competition for places. And that’s something McCrudden reckons can only be good for the team as they enter a pivotal stage of the season.
“I think we would’ve taken this position at the start of the season. I think every Derry City supporter, fan and player would’ve snapped your hand off for it.
“So I think we’re in a good place at the minute but we’ve got to get another three points from UCD and keep going.
“It’s the strongest I’ve seen the whole squad since the start of the season. There are players who are missing out on the bench. They’re doing brilliant in training and they just need to get in front of the boys who are starting games. It’s a great place to be at the minute with the competition for places. It will only make us better as players and as a group!”
City boss, Devine is delighted to have McCrudden back on board, describing him as a ‘dream’ player.
“Mickey is class,” he said. “He’s just a great player and a great person and an experienced player we can really benefit from. His application is first class.
"He comes in and trains magnificently well. His technical ability and game understanding and how to play this pitch is superb.
“Mickey is going to be a dream for this club,” he predicted. “He’s obviously had his setbacks and we’ve had to manage that. Both emotionally and physically we can’t get too high with Mickey because he’s been out for that long.
“I look at him as a player who can be at this club for as long as he wants to be here. He’s a player who brings all the right values and he has a great family behind him. He’s such a nice person and the reception he got coming off the pitch on Monday night was brilliant.”