Nobody in the ilk of Damien Duff has graced the Ireland squad since the magician retired after Euro 2012, but Daryl Horgan hopes the similarities in appearance noticed by his new teammates yesterday can in some way be replicated in a football sense.
The Galway man is far too modest to be putting himself in the same bracket as the centurion and has followed a completely different career path which has elevated him to the senior Ireland squad at 24 as the League of Ireland’s standout performer.
He was accompanied to the team hotel on Monday evening by his Dundalk colleague Andy Boyle, enabling him to an extent park the last-gasp FAI Cup final defeat to Cork City just 24 hours earlier, and within an hour, the pair were taken aside by the man a 10-year-old Horgan had watched in awe spearheading Ireland’s passage to the 2002 World Cup.
“Roy (Keane) had a chat with Andy and myself, saying ‘Look, you’re in on merit. It’s not just a token gesture,’” explained the winger.
“It was good of him to do that and it helped a lot. There was nothing major about it and I don’t expect there to be long chats during the week to either of us.
“They’ll tell us to play our own game but don’t need for us to know we won’t be fazed. I try not to be anyway because it’s only a game of football.”
Boyle, Stephen Kenny’s vice-captain and centre-back, was also feeling very much part of the new scene.
“This is a World Cup qualifier and not a friendly, so Martin O’Neill wouldn’t have picked us in the final squad for the sake of it,” insisted the Dubliner.
“We’re here on merit, we’re good players and can hold our own. You can’t feel inferior coming into a set-up like this and the other players just treat us the same.”
Both watched on growing up as many of their peers from the Ireland underage ranks took the traditional route by agreeing terms with a UK club in their teens.
Boyle played in the same Crumlin United team as Richie Towell and Conor Clifford, while Horgan was part of an Ireland U19 squad peppered with starlets he was reunited with on the training ground yesterday.
“I would have played with Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, and Shane Duffy back then,” explained Salthill Devon product Horgan.
“The rest of the lads I only got to meet in the last day and they’ve all been very sociable, many asking about the Europa League run we’re on.
“Of course, there were a few little comments about Duffer. You’d be blind not to see it but people only started talking about in recent years.”
A lot has changed in that period for Horgan, especially since joining the Lilywhites from Cork City for the 2014 season.
Like Towell 12 months ago, his performances could mean he has outgrown the domestic habitat and, once Dundalk’s Europa League run ends, he’ll assess the various offers to move abroad.
This week’s experience of mixing it with Premier League regulars, as they prepare for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier in Austria, can only help him visualise the higher plain awaiting him on the club circuit but to do so with an international cap pocketed would be fairytale stuff.
Both he and Boyle are aware being dropped into the competitive battle of a qualifier is only a remote possibility, yet they’ve a few days in training to convince O’Neill and Keane of their capability to be called upon in Vienna should the need arise.
“I’m probably a good bit down the pecking order but who knows how the week will go?” observed Horgan.
“I’ve seen League of Ireland players called into Ireland training and there was no real hope of playing. Whereas, the fact that we’re in the 28 at the minute, something could happen.
“We’ve proved that we can play against top-level opposition with Dundalk in Europe, something Martin and Roy have seen themselves by coming to the games recently.
“It is a big thing to get called into the squad when you’re seen as playing at an inferior standard.
“We’re up against a very good team in Austria and it won’t be run-of-the-mill like the Gibraltars or whoever. They were tipped to be dark horses going into the Euros and are favourites to get out of our group, so it will be a difficult match but we’ll be ready if called upon.”
Likewise, Boyle won’t be treating the trip as just a holiday reward after a long season at home. O’Neill needs to replace the injured Stephen Ward and, though a centre-back, Boyle is no different to the other alternative deputies insofar as left-back not being his natural positon.
“I’ve never played left-back but am willing to give it a bash,” beamed Boyle.
“As I said to the manager, I’ll even slot into central- midfield if he wants me to.”
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