Links, who turned 20 on Tuesday, has impressed for City since joining them at the start of the season, having spent the first half of the year at Egyptian top-flight club Alassiouty FC.
The former Platinum Stars attacker has featured nine times in all competitions for the Citizens, which includes all 120 minutes of their MTN8 final triumph over SuperSport United at Moses Mabhida.Stadium in Durban last weekend.
''Gift, I think when he came here he was already first team material,'' McCarthy said.
''He was ready to go on then, but like I said, I think he's 19 years old, I didn't want him to get a big head before his time. He has just come back to South African football and it’s not the same since the last time he was here. He's gone to Egypt, maybe the pace is quicker, maybe it’s different.
''But South African football has changed; it’s much more physical now, it’s more competitive. So he needed to find his feet to settle in andunderstand what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are ... which we are working on every time. I think now it’s time to take the cuffs off him and let him loose because now he understands his role of how I want him to be.”
He continued: ''I always make an example with him when I speak to him about Leroy Sane of Manchester City because in terms of quality I think he's exactly the same type of quality. He just needs to be at times more direct, and that's what I want.
''The last two weeks he's been showing more and more that class where he's more direct instead of every time going past people and cutting back. So ja, when he's done putting hard work in at training he gets to run free now.
''Hopefully he embraces being put in this situation on the biggest stage. Now he must just kick on from here.''