The new league season might be more than a month away still but Dundalk striker Patrick Hoban has already stirred up the rivalry with Shamrock Rovers by questioning the validity of the title they won in a shortened campaign last season.
While the Lilywhites finished a distant 22 points off the Hoops in the 18-game Covid-19 curtailed season last year, the striker said he did not know if he could personally have celebrated Rovers’ achievement, likening it to “being top of the table in June.”
Speaking to the club website about the forthcoming 36-game campaign which gets underway for Dundalk with a trip to face Sligo Rovers on March 20th, Hoban said: “It’s a proper league, isn’t it? You’re telling me that winning the league after 18 games is winning a league? It’s not. It’s like being top of the table in June and saying ‘we won the league’. Come on. Let’s be realistic here.
“Before we went into the games last summer I said it was ridiculous. I could not see myself, if we had won the 18-games last season, celebrating like we had won the league, especially after winning three before that. I just couldn’t do it.
“I saw last year’s league as a chance to win a Champions League spot and we didn’t do that. We finished third, and although we qualified for Europe, it was still disappointing, but this year we have to try and retain what’s ours which is a 36-game, proper league.”
Hoban is currently looking to overcome an ankle injury sustained in the final league game of last season at home to Sligo Rovers which saw him miss a number of Europa League matches and the 4-2 FAI Cup final win over Rovers.
“It’s probably the worst injury I’ve ever had,” he told dundalkfc.com
“I knew straight away when I did it. I was running full pelt and collided off the ‘keeper. I knew by the way I landed that it was bad but I didn’t think it was going to be as bad.
“I was in a bit of shock when the results came back but I had the surgery and it’s not something that’s going to stop me. Fitness-wise, I’m ahead of schedule on the pitch but in terms of trying to get the full strength back into the ankle, I’m not quite there yet.
“On Tuesday, I had my hardest run so things seem to be progressing well and touch wood, it won’t be too long before I’m back on the pitch and playing games.
“If we had started this month, I probably would have pushed myself too much to try and get back and that could have led to a setback and me being out for even longer. Now, I have a bit more time to get ready which is good for me,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shamrock Rovers sporting director Stephen McPhail told Off The Ball at the weekend that Stephen Bradley’s side would be using Hoban’s comments as motivation.
“I think Patrick knows who were the best team last year and the most consistent team. I think he is playing a bit of mind games there.
“That will be hung up on the wall,” said the former Leeds Utd midfielder.
McPhail added: “He has obviously done well in his career and he has got to recover from a bad injury as well so I’m sure he is just trying to get fit and trying to get in their team more than try to smoke up our side of things but we’re fine.
“We’re trying to concentrate on ourselves, having a good pre-season and getting back playing.”
Dundalk and Rovers will meet in Tallaght Stadium for the President’s Cup final on March 12th with the first league meeting between the sides pencilled in for match day three in Tallaght on April 2nd.