Republic of Ireland international Daryl Horgan says he will be a little jealous of his former Dundalk team-mates this afternoon (Tuesday) as they await the first qualifying round draw for the Champions League.
The winger, now at Scottish side Hibernian, was one of the Lilywhites’ leading lights in their 12 match European journey in 2016, scoring goals away to both Zenit St Petersburg and Maccabi Tel Aviv that would ultimately pave the way for a move to Preston North End.
While the 26-year-old has played in both the Championship and SPL since then, as well as winning six caps for his country, he told The Argus on a visit back to Dundalk this week that playing in Europe for Dundalk remains the highlight of his career to date.
“Europe was amazing,” he said.
“It was probably the best experience of my career if I’m honest.
“It was, in a sense, so unexpected for the team to go and do as well as we did. When you think back to the night in Tallaght against BATE, the late goal against Alkmaar and beating Tel Aviv at home, they’re all incredible memories that will live with all of us for a lifetime.
“That group will always have a bond because of those experiences. It was a great group of lads and everyone got on really, really well.
“It was just a great time playing football. I remember them months of September and October, it was just crazy with a relentless stream of games. You came home and you almost didn’t get a chance to breathe because it was just carnage but at the same time it was just so enjoyable,” said the Galway native.
While Horgan has gone on to bigger and better things since departing Dundalk in December 2016, he admits it is hard to beat European nights but he is hoping to experience them again down the line with Hibs.
“There’s something special about European nights no matter what the level,” he said.
“You hear people talking about Anfield on a European night or Parkhead on a European night. It’s just a great place to be.
“I’ll definitely be a little jealous of the lads on Tuesday when they’re waiting to see who they’ve drawn.
“Unfortunately we fell away in the middle part of the season massively. We had a belated run at it but unfortunately just fell short at the death.
“I was disappointed because I was really hoping we could get to Europe because as I said they’re incredible nights and you do miss them. Next year for us will about being trying to get in there and pushing up the table.”
Asked who his old side would be hoping to get in the draw, he said the task of advancing to the next round would be difficult no matter what.
“You just want the game that’s easiest as possible to win,” he said.
“You don’t want to get put up against a big gun, especially early on. An easier game now gives you a better chance but no matter who you play they’ll have good footballers and it’ll be a tough game for everyone.
“No matter who you play it will be very difficult but fingers crossed Dundalk can get the job done.”
Horgan said he has been keeping a close eye on his old side from his new base in Edinburgh and has been impressed by what he has seen to date.
“I’ve seen a few games and they’ve been playing well. Obviously when you lose your midfield three so early in the season, it’s not exactly ideal but the lads who have come in have done really well and then getting the other lads back fit has been a big plus.
“In many ways I think this year’s team mirrors the 2014 team because there have been a lot of late goals. They’re playing good stuff but it makes things tough when teams set up with two banks of five in front of you. They have been breaking teams down though. At one point they were 13 points behind Rovers and now they’re on top by five so to claw that back has been brilliant and will only give them confidence from here on in.”
The winger said he wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see Vinny Perth step into his old boss Stephen Kenny’s shoes so seamlessly.
“It was always going to be a really difficult job for anybody stepping into Stephen’s shoes because the man had worked miracles up there but Vinny was part of that as well. He was there right the way through and he was always brilliant to me with little pointers here and there and he had a great ability to lift you up when you were down and things like that.
“He’s walked into a dressing room where a lot of the lads know him already and respect him so that helps. They’re good pros who just want to do well and won’t let anything slide either.
“It can be difficult going from an assistant where you can be everyone’s friend to being manager when you have to make difficult decisions but it seems he has been making them well so far and the team are flying now,” said Horgan.
Fingers crossed, they’ll keep progressing through Europe so that memories like Horgan running from the half-way line to score in Russia are repeated in the months ahead.