Ruaidhrí Higgins says Derry City won't rush Colm Whelan's return despite goalscoring return

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​DERRY City boss Ruaidhri Higgins is refusing to rush Colm Whelan's return despite the striker's impressive cameo for the club's Under-20s at Ballybofey last weekend.

​The 23 year-old Kilkenny native has made just three appearances in two years since joining the Candy Stripes from UCD after sustaining a second anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in the space of 12 months.

Whelan made a blistering start to his City career with goals against Cork City and St Patrick's Athletic in his opening two games for the club before disaster struck - a second ACL blow during a defeat to Shamrock Rovers at Brandywell.

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There was so much expectation on the shoulders of the former Ireland U21 international who netted 44 times in 66 games for UCD before making his move to Foyleside.

He needed to be patient as he slowly returned to action and Higgins was delighted with his first run-out in last Saturday afternoon's underage fixture against Finn Harps.

Whelan played just under 40 minutes for the Candy Stripes, opening the scoring with a brilliant finish from outside the penalty area which dipped over the goalkeeper and struck the underside of the crossbar before nestling into the net.

He wasn't finished there, however, as he added a neat assist for Sean Patton who doubled the lead for the Brandywell youngsters.

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City assistant boss Paul Hegarty had seen enough at that stage and quickly got the message across to the bench to call Whelan ashore just before the interval.

Derry City striker Colm Whelan played his first minutes since sustaining his second ACL injury when turning out for the U20s against Finn Harps.Derry City striker Colm Whelan played his first minutes since sustaining his second ACL injury when turning out for the U20s against Finn Harps.
Derry City striker Colm Whelan played his first minutes since sustaining his second ACL injury when turning out for the U20s against Finn Harps.

It was a major step in his road to recovery 13 months after he last kicked a ball for the first team and Higgins was delighted to see him back on the pitch.

“Collie did really well in his cameo for the 20s," said Higgins. "We obviously planned to only play him for 35-40 minutes so we got him out."

With leading scorer Pat Hoban in terrific form and scoring goals and with Danny Mullen also an option to lead the line, there's no pressure to accelerate Whelan's return to the fold.

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"I don't know about Thursday night but we'll get a good couple of weeks in with him over the next few weeks and get him ready for the business end of the season.

"It was brilliant for him," he added. "I obviously don't want to put him under any unnecessary pressure, he will try and do right by him, try and get him back in the way we see fit, the way that's right for him. He's obviously had a very, very difficult period in his career and in his life so we've got this far so it's important that we manage him and I think he'll get even more fitness under his belt over the next few weeks.”

Another man who suffered two devastating, consecutive ACL injuries and made his comeback for the first team this season was Creggan man Ciaron 'Jackie' Harkin. And Higgins believes the midfielder has been a good companion and a source of hope for Whelan on their respective rehabilitation programmes.

"He's (Harkin) had a few appearances from the bench already and it's really good for Colm actually to lean on Ciaron, they've been through similar experiences and I'm sure 'Jackie will have been good for him so no listen both of them have had really tough times in their careers but two strong characters I will say that, two really strong characters and who will go on and have good careers.”

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