BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
DARYL HORGAN is desperate to be part of another unforgettable European charge with Hibs after coming to prominence as one of Dundalk’s miracle men.
The 26-year-old, who joined the capital club on a three-year deal from Preston on Saturday, emerged as a talisman for the Lilywhites as they ripped up the record books during a historic 2016/17 continental campaign.
Managed by former Dunfermline boss Stephen Kenny, Dundalk defeated Hafnarfjordur and Belorussian champions BATE Borisov to become the first Irish side to ever reach the Champions League playoff round.
Although Legia Warsaw proved too strong for them, Dundalk parachuted into the Europa League group stage and proceeded to claim the scalp of Israeli giants Maccabi Tel-Aviv, secure a last-gasp 1-1 draw away to AZ Alkmaar and run Zenit St Petersburg close twice.
Indeed, Horgan found the net in Russia to level the scores at 1-1 before Guiliano broke Irish hearts with a late winner.
The waspish winger will be ineligible for Thursday’s second leg against Molde – delicately balanced at 0-0 following a fraught first leg in Edinburgh – but will come into contention if Hibs can book their place in the playoff round against either Zenit or Dinamo Minsk.
Horgan recalled: “Every one of those memories in Europe with Dundalk is special. The Champions League qualifier against BATE Borisov at home in Tallaght was incredible, beating them 3-0 after losing 1-0 in Belarus.
“After getting through we knew we were at least assured group stage football in the Europa League. That was an amazing feeling.
“We beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv, got a last minute equaliser at AZ Alkmaar – these are unbelievable moments. It was an incredible time to be playing for Dundalk.
“However, I’m sure the boys in the [Hibs] dressing room don’t need me to tell them how special a European run could be. They will be all guns’ blazing over there in Norway and you would like to hope there’s an opportunity to be part of something like that again – we’re only three games away from the group stage.”
He laughed: “I’m not even sure how I’m going to watch or listen to the game on Thursday! I’m sure I’ll find a way.”
Horgan was handed his debut for Hibs just 24 hours after signing for an undisclosed fee from the Deepdale outfit, entering the fray as a second-half substitute in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at St Johnstone – who, ironically, fielded David McMillan, Dundalk’s top scorer during their European exploits.
His capture was the culmination of a protracted summer pursuit by Neil Lennon, who has been a long-term admirer of the player. A loan move appeared to be on the cards last month, only for it to collapse at the last minute.
However, the windfall from John McGinn’s £2.75m move to Aston Villa paved the way for a permanent switch.
Horgan continued: “All the way from Neil Lennon’s time at Celtic, his teams always played the sort of football that I would want to be involved in – attacking, quick and getting balls in the box.
“That style of play is something that I felt it would suit me.
“It was a move I was really interested in from the start of the summer. Over the last couple of years they have bounced back from relegation and really kicked on. They are a club looking to compete at the top end of the table and play European football so that’s a huge draw.”
As well as Horgan’s domestic and European aspirations, he is keen to kick-start his international career north of the border.
He was handed his Ireland debut against Iceland in March 2017 and has gone on to claim four caps, however manager Martin O’Neill has made it clear that a regular starting berth is essential if he is to cement his role with the boys in green.
Horgan made 43 appearances in 18 months for Preston after his feats at Dundalk earned a move to the SkyBet Championship, but just 15 of those were in the starting line-up.
He added: “First-team football didn’t come as much as I would have liked at Preston. There were lads ahead of me who the manager [Alex Neil] obviously thought were better or more suited to the way he wanted to do things.
“Neil Lennon told me I would get those opportunities if I was playing well and if I’m playing regularly towards the top of the Scottish Premiership then you would like to think the manager of the international team [O’Neill], who knows the game well here, will be keeping an eye on that and I can get back in there.”