MANAGER Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink says midfielder Ciaran Gilligan is a real example to any youngsters currently in the Burton Albion Academy.
And the Brewers boss says that Gilligan's progress through our youth system shows the pathway from Academy to first team to our talented youngsters.
Gilligan has signed a new contract with Burton Albion, penning a deal that will keep him at the Pirelli Stadium until at least 2024 - having initially joined Albion's Academy at under-9s level.
It follows the 20-year-old's reemergence into the first team after a difficult first half to the season, which saw the central midfielder sidelined with injuries and unable to break in to the starting XI.
But Gilligan has, since the turn of the year, made a further nine appearances in the starting line-up and has continued to excite fans with his all-energy displays.
Hasselbaink says the story of Gilligan - who made his debut in 2020 after signing his first professional deal - should inspire any and all young footballers currently in our Academy.
"When I came in last year, Ciaran was part of the squad and he has developed himself really well," said Hasselbaink.
"Still technically and tactically there is a lot for him to learn, but he is an example for all the players who are in the Academy now, that there is a pathway to go through to the first team.
"He has played more (in the first team) of late and has done really, really well.
"He was always in our plans to stay with us and to kick on, and if he keeps on improving and doing what we think he can, he will be a hell of a player.
"It's been a big 12 months for him, and you have to give him a lot of credit."
Hasselbaink also stressed that he is keen to protect Gilligan as much as possible - particularly given the young midfielder's energetic performances.
The Brewers manager explained why, in order to protect Gilligan from suffering further injuries, the youngster is occasionally in and out of the starting XI at present.
"We still need to watch out with him, because he is somebody that always plays 120%," said Hasselbaink.
"He always tries to go to his limit, and because of his limit, when he does that too often in a short space of time, he gets injured.
"Our focus now is to get him strong in his body so he doesn't get injured, and that's why we don't see him play every game consecutively, because we don't want him to get injured.
"We want to build him up so that next year, hopefully, we can build him up so he can play more consecutive games."
Hasselbaink confirmed that Oumar Niasse will miss tomorrow's game at home to Plymouth Argyle (3pm kick-off) due to personal reasons, while Conor Shaughnessy is suspended following his straight red card in last week's 3-0 defeat to Morecambe.
Gilligan, meanwhile, has trained on Thursday and Friday following a knock suffered at Morecambe.
Plymouth, meanwhile, arrive at the Pirelli Stadium tomorrow on the back of seven wins from their last eight games, moving into the play-off spots and with a seven-point cushion to Sunderland in seventh.
The Pilgrims have certainly responded well to the departure of former manager Ryan Lowe to Preston North End - with Steven Schumacher helping steer his side up the League One table.
“Plymouth are going really well,” said Hasselbaink. “We can’t afford to give them chances, they have to work harder for their opportunities.
"They’ve done brilliantly all season to be where they are. They have gone a little bit more solid than they were under Ryan Lowe, but Schumacher has done well (and) he’s kept the majority of the fundamentals the same.
"They had a little blip but they’ve picked up and they have a good momentum at the moment. We have to try to break that momentum. It will be about us being collectively solid and hard to beat, keeping ourselves in the game and from there building confidence and finishing the game off."