June 25th is a big date in Andy Boyle’s career.
It was on this date nine years ago that the defender scored his first career goal, heading home a Paul Corry free kick after to equalise for UCD after they had fallen behind to an early Eamon Zayed strike away to Sporting Fingal at Morton Stadium. A late goal from his fellow defender Evan McMillan would earn the Students a 2-1 win to claim the headlines but it was Boyle who people were quickly taking notice of.
Exactly nine years on from that landmark moment in his career, Boyle embarks on achieving another huge goal today when he trains with his new (and old) team-mates for the first time.
It was on the back of a series of superb performances in Europe for Dundalk that he earned a move to the UK and a subsequent international cap for his country.
Now that he is back Boyle is determined to conquer Europe again and hasn’t ruled out forcing his way back into the international setup either.
“That was probably the biggest draw about the league, that you get a chance to play in the Champions League and Europe,” he said.
“They are some of the biggest nights of your career and your life. The journey we went on in 2016 will stand out with all of us forever and everyone who was involved in that will only probably realise what we done when we retire. It was such a massive achievement but coming back the aim has to be to get there again and have another taste of it.
“Obviously domestically we’ve got to look after ourselves and the lads have put themselves in a fantastic position to go and win the league again.
“To get these European nights you’ve got to do well domestically but they are such special nights and the more of them we get the better. Everyone in and around the club has the same drive to repeat that,” he said.
While a move to Preston North End at the end of Dundalk’s memorable Europa League run of 2016 didn’t quite pan out following Simon Grayson’s departure two years ago, Boyle said he has few regrets about the move and feels he is returning to the SSE Airtricity League a much better player for the experience.
“It took me maybe a month or two to get into the team but once I did it went well. I more or less stayed in and played a decent amount of games from then on and got a full international cap as well which was a huge moment in my career.
“Then coming back for pre-season you think it’s going to be brilliant but then you find out a couple of days beforehand that the manager has left to go to Sunderland. You’re just hoping whoever comes in takes a fancy to you but I didn’t play enough really after that.
“I had to push to get out on loan to play games for my own career. I was just a bit unlucky because I had played six or seven games for Doncaster and then done a grade two on my groin. It’s probably the only time I’ve ever had a proper muscular injury so I didn’t get that bit of luck along the way or get the breaks.
“When I look back on all that time, it has made me a better person and better player playing at that kind of level. I played a lot of games the following season in Scotland so overall I think it was positive enough.
“I was never going to play the amount of games I had for Dundalk in the previous three or four years because I never really missed a game really. That was always going to change in the UK, especially at Championship or League One level where you’re playing 46 league games in a season. Saturday and Tuesday every week is a tough ask for anyone but I look back at it as a positive thing.
“I think I’m coming back a better player. I think as a defender you learn a bit of nous. You’re playing and training against a very high calibre of opposition so you learn things that different strikers do and I suppose just pick up little tips from different coaches and managers. You just take little bits and pieces here and there.
“You’re always learning and you’ll always be until you stop playing. I got to play against a lot of different formations in England and Scotland. When you’re playing against the likes of Celtic and Rangers, it’s good opposition and even playing away to Newcastle on the night they got promoted was another good experience,” he said.
Rumours about the 28-year-old’s possible return to Oriel Park first surfaced in January and while it didn’t happen then, he said he always had it in his head to return to the club.
“Back in January it probably wasn’t as much of a runner as it is now. I was speaking to a few clubs in January and at that time I wanted to give it another shot at a club in the UK.
“To be fair it went well for me at Ross County. We won the league and a Cup as well but this was always something I was thinking about for the summer. Obviously I had spoken to Vinny in January and I said we’d maybe have another conversation in the summer so we went from there really.”
Once Boyle, who will get married to fiancée Hayley next year, decided to return to Ireland he said there was only one place he wanted to go.
“I’ve a real love for the club. Some of the best nights of my career have been in a Dundalk shirt and we’ll always remember the great European nights that we were all involved in.
“I think realistically if I was coming back to Ireland then the only place I wanted to come was Dundalk. I had other offers but I think it was always going to be Dundalk and I made that clear at the start when I spoke to Vinny.
“It’ll be nice to go in on Tuesday and have a couple of familiar faces.”
While linking up with nine former Dundalk team-mates is a plus, Boyle said the improvement in facilities was a major factor in his decision to return to a club who were still training part-time in the evenings when he was last here.
“One of the key selling points was what they have done with the facilities. It’s a different club really from the one I left.
“The facilities that are on hand for the players now are a big plus. The club is only going in one direction and that was a big selling point for me.
“You don’t really believe it until you go up and see it. I know the lads had spoken so highly about it but it’s a very impressive setup and gives you an idea of what the owners want to do going forward.
“It’s a full-time setup and that’s a big draw because you want to be as professional as you can and the setup made that really appealing.
“Everyone around the town has been brilliant to me over the years and that played a big part in me coming home as well to be honest.”
While Boyle is effectively entering pre-season, he feels he is in good shape and ready to hit the ground running when he becomes available for the first time ahead of the trip to face Derry City at the Brandywell on Friday July 5th.
“I’ve worked hard,” he said when asked about where he was at fitness-wise.
“I went away on holidays but I trained out there with a personal trainer every morning just to make sure I was as professional as I could be. Hopefully when I get training with the lads and get a few minutes all of that will come along.
“Another week or so of training and hopefully I’ll develop and go from there but I feel fit enough and I feel I’ve looked after myself correctly.
“It was my first day in with the strength and conditioning coach today and he was happy enough so it’s just about building myself up again. I’ll train as hard as I can to get myself ready for selection as soon as possible.
“I can only really be registered from July 1st so I think Waterford on Monday may come too soon. You’re probably looking at the Derry game before I’m available for selection but like I say it gives me a week or so of probably being flogged but I’ll look forward to it.”
The hard work starts here but that’s something he’s certainly not afraid of. There’s another league title and a European goal in sight. He’ll stop at nothing to achieve both.