The latest chapter in Daryl Horgan’s career as a professional footballer began with a run off the bench for Neil Lennon’s Hibernian in their 1-1 draw away to St Johnstone in Perth last weekend.
Tony Watt, whose previous posting had been with OH Leuven in the Belgian second tier, opened the scoring for the home side, in front of a crowd of 4,367.
You’d love to know what Horgan’s new gaffer made of it all.
It was a then 18-year old Watt who scored what proved to be the winning goal for Lennon’s Celtic side against Barcelona in the 2012 Champions League group stages. It isn’t just the former Northern Irish captain, and Watt, who can look back wistfully at that day as some peak that is unlikely to be rescaled.
The thoughts of beating Barca and making the knockout stages are an ever-more-distant dream now for a club that has won just twice in the group stages in the years since while failing to even make it that far three times.
This week’s qualifying exit at the hands of AEK Athens was just one link in a chain that appears to be weighing the Scottish giants down.
Brendan Rodgers has spoken time and again about the club’s failure to bring in the new blood it needed via the transfer market. And a rare league loss, to Hearts last week, has only added to the angst. Rodgers’ concerns bring to mind that line about someone’s wallet being too small for their 50s when you place it in the context of the league around him.
This is an environment in which Celtic’s closest pursuers this past four seasons, Aberdeen, have lost their best striker to the fifth tier of the English pyramid.
Adam Rooney was still highly valued at Pittodrie. And he had another suitor at Motherwell in the form of manager Stephen Robinson who revealed that his club had simply been blown away by the money Salford City put on the table for the Dubliner.
A weekly wage of £4,000 (€4,500) has been quoted in the English north-west. It should be pointed out here that Rooney’s pay packet is a multiple of the regular salary on offer at that level in England but, still, it doesn’t shine a great line on Horgan’s new surroundings. Aberdeen have lost players to League One in the past as well. This is, after all, a league ranked 26th in Europe. That’s well behind Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Israel.
Horgan is to be applauded for his decision to leave Preston North End. His old boss at Deepdale, Alex Neil, revealed this week that the Galway man had been told by Martin O’Neill that he needed to be playing regularly if he was to keep his international ambitions burning, but is Scotland’s distant outpost the best place to fan those flames?
There’s a long tradition of Republic of Ireland players playing for Celtic, but it makes for more of a thin thread down the years than a solid steel cable. There are, in fact, only 15 Republic-of-Ireland qualified players dotted around the 12 senior squads that make up the Scottish Premiership right now.
Seven of those are over 30 and only five have senior caps. Colin Doyle earned his first in 11 years when Ireland lost 1-0 in Turkey recently, Jonny Hayes and Stephen Gleeson have made four appearances each — all in friendlies — while Darren O’Dea and Conor Sammon haven’t worn the green jersey for five years.
Look at it that way and it’s hard to see O’Neill or Roy Keane pointing the car towards Hadrian’s Wall too often this season. Not least because the Republic of Ireland manager has had considerably more reason to retrace many of the steps he made around Scotland as Celtic manager in the recent past and all but ignored the temptation.
Rooney got no further with O’Neill than the odd extended squad, even whilst banging in 66 goals for Aberdeen over four seasons. Hayes just about wedged his foot in the door despite making the league’s team of the year at the end of the 2016-17 season and St Johnstone’s Joe O’Shaughnessy, who joined him on that same ‘best of’ list, hasn’t even mapped.
Horgan never did break into the Republic of Ireland setup whilst at Dundalk, despite his electrifying form in the Airtricity League and in Europe. The hope is that the 26-year old doesn’t find history repeating itself in another league that has suffered in the shadow of England and all its trappings.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved