League of Ireland fans might justifiably be relishing the sight of Daryl Horgan hitting the ground running at Preston but Martin O’Neill is probably even more gratified by the resurgent impact one of the older wingers in town is having at Deepdale.
Aiden McGeady followed up a man- of-the-match display — in which he twice found the net — against Brentford at the weekend, with another command performance, including one assist, in Preston’s 2-1 win against Birmingham on Tuesday night.
And, according to Preston old boy and former Irish international Kevin Kilbane, McGeady’s purple patch is just the latest manifestation of a sustained return to form since he was frozen out at Everton, struggled on loan at Sheffield Wednesday last season before finding his feet at Deepdale this season.
“We know what Aiden is like — sometimes wide men don’t have an influence on games — but I must have been to Deepdale half a dozen times this season and he is having an influence on every game,” says Kilbane. “Now he’s scoring a few goals and creating a few goals but that only highlights the fact that all season, he’s been excellent.
“It looks to me as if he’s been given licence to go and express himself. (Manager) Simon Grayson doesn’t put too much pressure on him from a defensive point of view. He’s become a huge favourite at Deepdale. I was at the Arsenal game and it was the first time I heard the chant go around the ground. It had been coming for a few weeks and now he’s actually got a song about himself and you can see that he is loving it, relishing playing in front of a manager who has total belief in him.”
Kilbane reckons McGeady is one of those players who responds best to an encouraging word. And while he credits former Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni with helping develop the player’s defensive awareness, he thinks the Italian was too quick to criticise him when things weren’t to the manager’s satisfaction.
“I just felt that that he put too much pressure on him day-to-day in training,” he says. “He always used to single him out for things. If something went wrong in training, it was almost as if he blamed Aiden for it.”
By contrast, Kilbane points out that McGeady is likely to find a more sympathetic ear under the current Irish boss, as Martin O’Neill assesses his options ahead of the big World Cup qualifier against Wales next month.
“We know that Martin loves him, he’s very fond of him because he helped develop him as a youngster,” he observes. “So I think Aiden will have an influence, and will have a say, over the next few games we’ve got.”
Indeed, Aviva FAI Junior Cup ambassador Kilbane — speaking at yesterday’s draw for the quarter-finals of the competition — reckons the 30-year-old is doing enough to keep himself firmly ahead of Preston team-mate Horgan in the Irish pecking order.
“Daryl Horgan has to prove himself (for Ireland),” he says. “He has to be on the bench for a few games. You would imagine he is going to get some sort of game time over the next two games, maybe not the Wales game but certainly Iceland, which would be the perfect setting for him to get a game.
“But I still think Aiden, with his experience, is ahead, and it’s up to Daryl to make that step up to the next level.”
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