It was inevitable really that Daryl Horgan would find the pull factor of plying his trade in England too much at one point or another, and it was always a matter of when rather than if he would go given the season he’s had this year.
The first time I saw Horgan play was in the Under-16 National Cup final (SFAI Barry Cup) at Turner’s Cross in 2009. At the time he was playing for Salthill Devon versus Greenwood. And although the Cork team would ultimately go on to win 3-1, it was the diminutive winger on the right side of midfield who had caught my eye that day as the Galway outfit’s one standout performer.
I would never dream of claiming to have foreseen the career trajectory the Damien Duff doppelgänger – in more than just appearance – would have taken but most who watched on from the stands that day thought there would be more to come from him.
Since that underage final he has had to bide his time at Sligo Rovers as well as endure a loan spell at Cork City, which was ultimately made permanent before having a breakout campaign in 2013. This subsequently led to him being snapped up by Dundalk, who would go on to experience the advantages of having such a dangerous player in their ranks right up until the Louth club’s exit from the Europa League last week.
Horgan – as well as fellow Dundalk teammate Andy Boyle – now move on to Championship club Preston North End, a side which the 24-year-old will likely know deep down is below the standard he will ultimately rise to.
While playing in England’s second tier regularly will be another major test for Horgan, it too is more of a stepping stone than anything else for a player as talented as he is.
Taking this small stride forward first may turn out to be a genius move by the winger, with an already strong, and familiar, Irish feel to the Deepdale club with Preston-born former Ireland international Alan Kelly a goalkeeping coach there along with Cork native Alan Browne, fellow Galwegian Greg Cunningham, Eoin Doyle and Aiden McGeady, who’s on loan from Everton.
The murmurs of a move to the north east of England these last few weeks – to either Sunderland or Newcastle – may have been a bridge too far at this stage for a player yet to leave Irish shores in his professional career, and the comfort of having Boyle as well as other Ireland internationals around him may make the move that bit easier in a personal sense.
That being said, the likes of James McClean made an almost immediate impact at the Stadium of Light and he has since gone on to become a key component of Martin O’Neill’s Ireland team, albeit often starting from the bench.
I would argue too that Horgan has more strings to his bow than the ex-Derry City man did when he swapped the north of Ireland for the north of England back in 2011.
As well as wide men like the ex-Wigan man, the amount of number 10s we have exported since the turn of the century such as Wes Hoolahan, Richie Towell and Keith Fahey has been substantial. This trio have also tended to be lifted up as examples of how good Irish footballers can be technically, with a sense of grace and inherent genius integral to each player’s game. The praise lavished upon Hoolahan in particular would make one think we have one of Europe’s best central midfielders in our midst, despite the fact that he plays for Norwich City.
Horgan, however, is an altogether different prospect. He’s more electrifying, unpredictable and pacey on the ball than anyone who’s moved from Ireland to England in recent times.
He’s a player that lifts spectators from their seats and causes a notable rise in volume across a stadium anytime he picks up the ball inside the final third and sets himself up for an inevitable mazy run as opposition fans chomp on their nails and hope without much faith one of their players can somehow put a stop to his changeable twists and turns.
In Ireland he was of course well known as Dundalk’s talisman but a very real indication of just how effective he is in attack came when the Lilywhites’ European opponents double-teamed him. In a domestic game this would be commonplace, but for an Irish side to go to Europe and have one of their players targeted in this way is generally unheard of.
Yes, every team worth their salt will do their homework on an opposing team’s biggest threat, however this level of respect for an Irish domestic player’s attributes is quite unique.
The Europa League group stages might not have been viewed intently by many Preston fans over the last few months, but for any of the Lancashire club’s supporters who did tune into Dundalk’s exploits they will know they now have a superb talent on their hands.
No-one sat in the Donie Forde Stand in Turner’s Cross in May 2009 would have said with any degree of certainty that a player they saw in front of them would make it to Horgan’s level.
Brentford’s John Egan, who played at the heart of Greenwood’s defence that day, is now staking a claim for an international call-up too, however Horgan is the man of the moment, and there’s plenty more to come from him – of that I am much more certain than I was seven years ago.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
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